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Saturday 08 April 2017

An East Asian First?

Posted in: Comment
By Craig Young - 2nd April 2017

After a recent positive Taiwanese Constitutional Court decision, it now seems as if Taiwan will shortly become the first East Asian nation to pass civil marriage equality legislation. It's time to update that nation's history as well as its internal LGBTI rights record.

Initially inhabited by indigenous Taiwanese aborigines, Dutch and Spanish annexations occurred in rapid succession, until Chinese migrants established a Mandarin-speaking Kingdom of Tungning and Beijing's Qing Dynasty Empire then annexed it in 1662, incorporating into mainland China's imperial possessions. France tried to annex Formosa (as it was then known) in 1885, but was repelled. In 1895, Japan annexed island as one consequence of their victory at the end of the First Sino-Japanese War that year. The Japanese were not popular overlords- there were Chinese rebellions in 1907, 1915 and 1930. There were genocidal campaigns against inland Taiwanese aboriginal groups and Chinese Taiwanese culture and language were banned. During its expansion phase, Japanese militarists heavily used Taiwan as a regional aircraft base, which resulted in intensive USAF bombing as the tide turned during the Pacific theatre of World War II. At the end of the Second World War, Taiwan's status was ambiguous. The Allies were hesitant about handing it back to the Chinese, given the escalating Communist Party of China military campaign and civil war against the Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) government of General Chiang Kai-Shek. In 1948, Chiang and the Chinese Nationalists lost the war and evacuated their forces and infrastructure to Taiwan. From that point on, Taiwan became a de facto independent state from the consequent Peoples Republic of China on the mainland.

For the next forty years, Taiwan was a Chinese Nationalist military dictatorship and the target of irredentist noises from the adjacent Peoples Republic, albeit protected from outright annexation by the United States. As time went on, the Communist Party of China became more pragmatic, normalised Sino-Western relations, and turned toward a market capitalist economy, leading to the decline and marginalisation of the rival "Republic of China" on Taiwan as more western nations developed lucrative trade and foreign investment deals with its giant neighbour. In 1979, the Kaohsiung Incident had resulted in the bloody repression of peaceful human rights and civil liberties protests, leading to increased pressure for democratisation against the Kuomintang regime. In 1987, Chiang Ching Kuo, the older Chiang's son, allowed free and democratic elections and constitutional reform, leading to the emergence of the Democratic Progressive Party opposition. His successor, Lee Teng Hui presided over Taiwan's first democratic presidential election in 1996 and won, although concerns about Beijing-Taipei relations and land purchase scandals led to the election of the Democratic Progressive Party's Chen Shui-Bien in 2000 and his second term in 2004. In a turnabout from the days of their military dictatorship, the Kuomintang and its allies now favour eventual reunification with the mainland, while the DPP and its allies advocate eventual independence from the mainland. With political gridlock in the Upper House (Yuan), the DPP's objectives were frustrated, and the Kuomintang won Taiwan's 2008 national elections on the basis of closer economic relations with the mainland. Most Taiwanese favour continued co-existence and autonomy but not outright declaration of independence from Beijing, despite its actual de facto political and economic independence.

Gay sex is legal in Taiwan, but the nation's anti-discrimination laws do not cover sexual orientation discrimination on the basis of goods and services, although educational services (2003) and employment (2007) are subject to its anti-discrimination laws. Taiwan Pride celebrations started in 2012 and it is well attended, attracting over 65,000 onlookers. As for relationship equality and marriage equality, they've been under debate for the last thirteen years. The Legislative Yuan started debating it in 2003, but it faced opposition from elements of the Cabinet and legislature, and thus, Taiwan has no national registered partnership or civil unions available to same-sex couples as a result. In December 2014, legislative momentum began to build, as amendments to the Civil Code that would recognise marriage equality and inclusive adoption reform were submitted to Taiwan's Legislative Yuan's Judiciary Committee. It has support from the Democratic Progressive Party, Taiwan Solidarity Union, People First Party and Kuomintang. In May 2015, Kaohsiung began to issue official document recognition forms for same-sex couples, joined by Taipei in June 2015. An estimated seventy-one percent of polled Taiwanese support marriage equality.

Tsai Ing-Wen is Taiwan's first female president and is a lawyer, serving on numerous Yuan committees and acting as chair of the DPP until her election as Yuan parliamentary leader. Ms Tsai has been courting the LGBT vote assiduously, and a Chinese Valentines Day couple advertisment included two same-sex couples. On 31 October 2015, she publically stated her support for the introduction of marriage equality in Taiwan during Taiwan Pride. On January 16 2016, she was elected as Taiwanese President by almost a 2:1 margin against the Kuomintang's Ernie Chiu-Lin, with nearly seven million against nearly four million for the KMT. The DPP is also headed for a majority in the Yuan. Marriage equality may be about to occur in Eastern Asia for the first time.

Insofar as the court records go, the first marriage equality court case was filed by Ching Hseuh-Chan and Chih-Wei Chao, in Taipei's Administrative Court, back in 2012. The court sent it to the Court of Grand Justice, but the dispirited appellants withdrew their case given the prolonged nature of the proceedings. However, Chi Chia-Wei and Taipei's Department of Civil Affairs have both requested clarification of the legal status of LGBT couples and the legitimacy of same-sex civil marriage, so the Constitutional Court is currently hearing whether there is anything obstructing same-sex civil marriage in the Civil Code. If there is, the Constitutional Court will then be asked whether this violates the Constitution of the Republic of China [Taiwan-ed], specifically its clauses that deal with discrimination and equality.


"Taiwan Constitutional Court hears arguments on Same-Sex Marriage" Focus Taiwan: 24.03.2017:http:// 201703240029.aspx

Abigail Chou: "Taiwan Same-Sex Marriage Debate Heats Up As Possibility Nears"Asahi Shimbun:24.12.2016:http://www.asahi. com/ajw/articles/ AJ201701060024.html

Craig Young - 2nd April 2017

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