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Taiwan Approves Same-Sex Marriage in First for Asia

Same-sex marriage supporters celebrate after Taiwan became the first place in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage, outside the Legislative Yuan in Taipei, Taiwan May 17, 2019. (REUTERS/Tyrone Siu)
Taiwan Approves Same-Sex Marriage in First for Asia
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Taiwan’s legislature voted Friday to legalize same-sex marriage. It became the first country in Asia to recognize the rights of same-sex couples.

The new legislation gives couples many of the tax, health insurance and child care rights available to male-female married couples.

Before the vote, Taiwanese lawmakers were under pressure from two sides: gay activists and religious groups opposed to the measure.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen supported the same-sex marriage bill. She wrote: “On May 17th, 2019 in Taiwan, Love Won. We took a big step toward true equality, and made Taiwan a better country.” Her comments appeared on the American news and social media service Twitter.

“It’s a breakthrough, I have to say so,” said Shiau Hong-chi. He is a professor of gender studies and communications management at Shih-Hsin University in Taiwan.

Thousands of people demonstrated Friday morning in the rainy streets outside the parliament building before the vote. Many protesters carried signs reading “The vote cannot fail.” About 50 opponents sat nearby and gave speeches in support of marriage between only men and women.

Taiwan’s Constitutional Court ruled in May 2017 that the constitution permits same-sex marriages. The court gave parliament two years to amend the island’s marriage laws.

The court order got gay rights groups pushing for fair treatment. It also increased activism by Christian groups and supporters of traditional Chinese family values. They note the importance of marriage and producing children.

The first same-sex marriage law in Asia

Religion, conservative values and political systems that discourage gay activism have slowed moves toward same-sex marriage in many Asian countries. However, Thailand is exploring the legalization of same-sex civil partnerships.

“This will help (fuel a) debate in Thailand, and hopefully will help Thailand move faster on our own partnership bill,” said Wattana Keiangpa of the Asia Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health.

Phil Robertson is the deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch. He said Taiwan’s actions should kick “off a larger movement across Asia to ensure equality.”

Taiwan’s acceptance of gay relationships began in the 1990s. That is when leaders of the Democratic Progressive Party supported the cause to help Taiwan stand out in Asia as an open society.

Taiwan is a self-governing democracy with a strong civil society. The island’s political system supports rights for sexual and ethnic minorities, women, and others.

Yet mainland China claims the island as part of its territory. The mainland is under the control of the Chinese Communist Party. Party officials have repeatedly discouraged even the discussion of legalizing same-sex marriage.

News of Taiwan’s new law, however, was a popular issue on social media in China. The Twitter-like website Weibo had more than 100 million views.

A same-sex marriage supporter holds rose to mourn those who committed suicide due to discrimination during a parliament vote on three draft bills of a same-sex marriage law, outside the Legislative Yuan in Taipei, Taiwan May 17, 2019.
A same-sex marriage supporter holds rose to mourn those who committed suicide due to discrimination during a parliament vote on three draft bills of a same-sex marriage law, outside the Legislative Yuan in Taipei, Taiwan May 17, 2019.

Continued opposition

Opponents in Taiwan raised fears of insurance scams and children confused by having two mothers or two fathers. Both sides of the issue have held colorful street demonstrations and tried to influence lawmakers.

“This is going to cause a lot of morality problems,” said Lin Shih-min. He is with the Taiwan political action group Stability of Power, which opposed the law. “Children…have the right to grow up with both a mother and a father,” he said.

In November of 2018, a majority of Taiwanese voters rejected same-sex marriage in a special referendum. However, legislators supported the idea and voted separately on each item largely along party lines. They said it followed the law as well as the spirit of the island-wide vote.

“We need to take responsibility for the referendum last year and we need to take responsibility for people who have suffered from incomplete laws or faced discrimination,” said Hsiao Bi-khim, a ruling party legislator. She spoke during the three-hour parliament meeting.

At least 20 same-sex couples are planning a mass marriage registration in Taipei on May 24, said a representative of the group Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan. They will hold a large gathering the next day on a street outside the presidential office, the organizer said.

The law will help Jay Lin and his partner. They want to marry and be joint parents of their two 2-year-old sons. They plan to register for a marriage permit after May 24.

“A lot of gay parents are excited about that already,” said Lin, a Taipei-based technology worker.

I’m Susan Shand.

The Associated Press reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

couple - n. two people who are married or who have a romantic or sexual relationship

insurance - n. an agreement in which a person makes regular payments to a company and the company promises to pay money if the person is injured or dies, or to pay money equal to the value of something (such as a house or car) if it is damaged, lost, or stolen

gay - adj. : sexually attracted to someone who is the same sex

gender - n. the state of being male or female

discourage - v. to try to make people not want to do (something)

view - n. something that is seen on a website

scam - n. to deceive and take money from

confuse - v. to make (someone) uncertain or unable to understand something

referendum - n. a public vote on a particular issue

item - n. an individual thing