Taiwan to Become First Nation in Asia to Legalize Gay Marriage as Court Rules Same-Sex Ban Unconstitutional

Chi Chia-wei, 58, the pioneer in Taiwan's gay rights movement, poses for photographs holding a rainbow flag in Taipei, Taiwan, 22 May 2017 (issued on 23 May 2017). Photo: David Chang/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

  • Taiwan’s top court has ruled banning gay marriage to be unconstitutional.
  • Taiwan thus seems set to become the first country in Asia and 23rd in the world to legalize same-sex marriage.
  • Court has given Taiwanese legislature two years to adopt the necessary legislation.
  • It is still unknown if Taiwan’s Parliament will go all the way with equal treatment for same-sex marriage, or will instead adopt more limited rights for gay couples.

Taiwan is set to become the first Asian nation to legalize gay marriage after its Constitutional Court has found the ban on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional.

Same-sex marriage is presently legally recognized in a total of 22 countries in Europe, North America, South America, Africa, and Australia, but none in Asia (Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, Finland, France, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, the UK, the US, and Uruguay), while some other countries recognize same-sex civil unions.

‘Gross Legislative Flaw’

Taiwan’s top court ruled on Wednesday that current regulations prohibiting marriage between partners of the same sex are unconstitutional, The Hong Kong Free Press reported.

It has thus paved the way for the self-ruling island country formally calling itself the Republic of China, which is claimed by the People’s Republic China as its province, to become the first Asian nation to make gay marriage legal.

Announcing the result of a two-month-long constitutional review, the panel of 14 judges ordered the Taiwanese legislature to either amend Taiwan’s Civil Code or to introduce new provisions to recognize same-sex marriage within two years.

It is still unclear, however, if Taiwan’s Parliament will guarantee married same-sex couples absolutely equal treatment as opposite-sex couples, or just a legal recognition and only part of the rights.

Two of the 14 judges dissented, while one refrained from filing an opinion.

Taiwan’s Constitutional Court said that the current regulations are in violation of constitutional rights to the freedom of marriage and equality among citizens.

“The current provisions of the Marriage Chapter do not allow two persons of the same sex to create a permanent union of intimate and exclusive nature. This is obviously a gross legislative flaw,” said the court in a press release.

“Disallowing two persons of the same sex to marry, for the sake of their inability to reproduce, is a different treatment having no apparent rational basis,” the court stated.

“The basic ethical orders built upon the existing institution of opposite-sex marriage will remain unaffected, even if we allow two persons of the same sex to enter into a legally recognized marriage,” it elaborated.

Anti-gay marriage protesters holding slogans saying ‘Legal Procedure Unfair’, ‘Democracy Is Sacrificed’ and ‘Taiwan Does Not Welcome Same-Sex Marriage’ – protest outside the Judicial Yuan (Taiwan’s highest judicial body) in Taipei, Taiwan, 24 May 2017. Photo: Henry Lin/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

30-Year Struggle

Hundreds of same-sex marriage supporters celebrated in Taipei outside the legislature, in a demonstration held by gay rights group Marriage Equality Coalition.

Opponents remain camped outside the judiciary building following their protest on Tuesday. Anti-gay rights activist Abdulluh Musad staged an ongoing hunger strike for four days at Taipei’s Liberty Square.

The gay marriage case was brought to Taiwan’s court by two parties, one of whom is Chi Chia-wei, a 59-year-old gay rights activist who first attempted to register a marriage with his male partner in 1986.

With Taiwan under martial law at the time, he was imprisoned for five months. The legislature responded to his petition calling homosexuality “a perversion of a minority.”

Chi was joined in his current petition by the Department of Civil Affairs of the Taipei government, which earlier said it would respect the court’s ruling no matter what.

Existing regulations stipulating marriage as a union between a man and a woman have also been challenged in a bill proposed by legislator Yu Mei-nu of Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party.

The Legislative Yuan passed the first of three readings of the bill last December, but a final review is not expected until later this year.

Taiwan’s President, Tsai Ing-wen, who came to power last year, has been supporting the legalization of same-sex marriage.

The ruling of Taiwan’s Constitutional Court in favor of gay marriage comes against the backdrop of highly disturbing reports about the persecution of gays in Chechnya, an autonomous republic in Russia, and in Asian countries such as Indonesia.

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