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Taiwan spearheading rights for same-sex marriage

Updated: Aug 22, 2021

Bill to Allow Same-Sex Marriage Passes in 2019

In May 2019, which is still fresh in our memories, Taiwan became the first country in Asia to recognize same-sex marriage. This big news was widely reported in Japan and the rest of the world, making it a historic moment. With the passage of this bill, same-sex couples can now enjoy the same protections as heterosexual couples.

This time, three bills were debated and voted on, but the one proposed by the government led by current Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen was passed, and she tweeted, "We have a chance to make history and show the world that the value of development takes root in Asian society." In recent years, Taiwan has been attracting attention from around the world for defending itself against the coronavirus pandemic with the quickest response of any country. Although it is a small country with only one-fifth the population of Japan, Taiwan is leading Asia with its flexible and modern way of being a country.

So, how did Taiwan get to this point?

The History of LGBT in Taiwan

When looking at the history of LGBT in Taiwan, I would like to trace it back to the 19th century. At that time in Taiwan, homosexuality was considered a disease that needed to be treated. During the Cold War (1947-1991), Taiwanese artists attempted to make homosexuality visible by expressing non-normative sexualities and desires in Western culture through their artworks. It was an attempt to show their existence through art. It was also a way of resisting the prevailing belief at the time that homosexuality was only associated with the body and sensuality.

Figure 1: "I am a fake, but my heart is true," a 2016 image by Taiwanese photographer Su Misu, whose work explores gender identity, sexuality, and bondage. Credit: Su Misu/Chi-Wen Gallery


The main religions in Taiwan are Buddhism and Taoism. There are no penalties for homosexuality in either of these religions. However, some Christian, Muslim, and Hindu sects consider homosexuality to be evil (This is because, within each religion, different denominations, clergy, and individuals have different views). Therefore, throughout Taiwan's history, homosexuality has never been punished, but there was no welfare or protection for it either.

In 1949, Taiwan was ruled by the "martial law" enacted by the Nationalist government, which not only prevented "same-sex marriage", but also prevented people from speaking freely. In 1986, a homosexual man asked the legislature (the courts in Japan) to allow same-sex marriage, but the request was rejected on the grounds that homosexuality was against public order and morals. The lifting of martial law in 1987 accelerated the democratization process, and from the 1990s onward, as the women's rights movement gained momentum, so did the push for LGBTQ equality. In 2003, the Pride Parade, an event celebrating LGBT culture, was held in Taiwan for the first time.

With these active people's efforts, the country was making flexible changes. In 2001, the "Equal Employment Opportunity Law" was passed, which is the prototype of the "Equal Employment Opportunity Law" (similar to the Equal Employment Opportunity Law in Japan) to guarantee equality in employment. In 2004, the Gender Equality Education Act was passed, and in 2008, the Gender Worker Equality Act was passed.

In 2017, the Supreme Court made a landmark decision. In 2017, the Supreme Court made a landmark decision: it ruled that the current constitution, which does not recognize same-sex marriage, is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court ruled that the current constitution that does not allow same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, giving the legislature two years to amend the law, which was a big boost for the realization of same-sex marriage. In the year 2019, there were 2011 same-sex couples, and in 2020, there were 1713 couples.

Pride Parade in Taiwan

Pride parades are held all over the world to promote understanding of LGBTQ people. 2003 saw the first PRIDE parade in Taiwan, and it is said to be one of the largest in Asia.

The number of participants in 2003 was about 2,000. The number of participants has been increasing every year. In 2017, 123,000 people participated; in 2018, 137,000 people, and in May 2019, with the recognition of same-sex marriage, participants from all over the world gathered. The number of participants reached over 200,000, the largest ever.

The year 2020 is worth mentioning. While parades and events around the world were canceled due to the pandemic, Taiwan was able to hold its parade as before due to its successful containment of the pandemic. Despite the fact that the parade was not open to international visitors, 130,000 people from all over Taiwan participated. Needless to say, it was one of the largest parades held in 2020 in the world.

Figure 2: Taiwan Pride (Photo: Patcharaporn Puangsombat)


Learning from Taiwan's Realization of Same-Sex Marriage

As of July 2021, same-sex marriage has become possible in 29 countries and regions. In Japan, on the other hand, the ordinary Diet session was adjourned in June 2021 without even submitting the LGBT bill, which is limited to "promoting understanding" and does not even specify "prohibition of discrimination." While Taiwan and other countries around the world have been developing laws that include "anti-discrimination" clauses, some opposition members of the Japanese Diet have even made statements that are unthinkable in the 21st century, such as "LGBT people are morally unacceptable," causing a stir. Furthermore, the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics are here. Although diversity is the theme of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, it has been decided that the games will be held without any anti-discrimination laws or laws to promote understanding, as the ordinary Diet session has been closed. I can't help but feel angry that we are missing a great opportunity and falling behind the times. However, if we look at the local government level, there are more than 100 areas that have introduced the partnership system (A system that recognizes same-sex couples as having a relationship equivalent to marriage), and the population coverage rate is more than 37%, which means that there is a gap between the local and national government.

As we can see from the realization of same-sex marriage in Taiwan, the people run the country. Now more than ever, we need to take an interest in our home country and take it into our own hands to change it. This is because the laws that protect us have not changed, even though the times are changing so rapidly. If we do not try to change them, they will not change.

It is quite difficult to change something about minorities by majority vote. However, the environment surrounding the LGBT community is far better understood than it used to be. Let's continue to act without giving up hope. Let's make the hope that Taiwan has shown us our ally.

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