Taiwan Cabinet OKs draft bill legalizing same sex marriage

23, Feb. 2019

Two young women at an LGBT organized rally in Taipei hold rainbow flags in support of same sex marriage)[LightRocket/Getty/Kyodo
Two young women at an LGBT organized rally in Taipei hold rainbow flags in support of same sex marriage)[LightRocket/Getty/Kyodo

TAIPEI, Kyodo - Taiwan is on track to be the first Asian country or jurisdiction to allow same-sex marriage as the island's cabinet approved a draft bill legalizing such unions on Thursday.

The draft will now proceed to the legislature for debate, with a vote being held on it by May 24.

Hailing the approval as a "historic moment," Cabinet spokeswoman Kolas Yotaka quoted Premier Su Tseng-chang as saying that it took poor people, women and black people a long time to enjoy what they have today.

"Regardless of your sexual orientation or gender identity, we all live on this land and everybody deserves respect and equal treatment," Su was quoted as saying. "I sincerely hope Taiwan will become a country that is tolerant, friendly and respectful for each other."

Acknowledging that same-sex marriage is a highly divisive issue, Su said the Executive Yuan, or Cabinet, proposed the draft bill following a 2016 ruling of the Council of Grand Justices and the passage of three referendums addressing the issue in November last year.

The draft bill would allow same-sex marriage provided both partners are at least 18 years old. The same-sex couple would enjoy similar legal protections as those enjoyed by heterosexuals such as financial benefits, inheritance rights and parental rights.

However, same-sex couples could only raise children by one party who has a biological relationship with them.

Minister of Justice Tsai Ching-hsiang said the ministry is open to suggestions and does not rule out further amending the bill before or after it clears the legislature.

The legislature is required to pass the draft bill on or before May 24. If it fails to do so, same-sex couples will be able to obtain legal recognition of their civil union by registering their cohabitation partnership at the household registration office. However, they will not have any of the legal protections that their heterosexual counterparts do.

The Council of Grand Justices, the highest court in Taiwan, ruled in May 2016 that the Civil Code, which stipulates that marriage is the legal union between a man and a woman, is unconstitutional.

Authorities concerned are required to amend or enact relevant laws in accordance with the ruling of the court's interpretation within two years. The deadline is May 24 this year.

President Tsai Ing-wen's ruling Democratic Progressive Party and the main opposition Nationalist Party (KMT) both stayed clear of the highly charged issue in the run-up to island-wide local elections in November, fearing it would cost them votes.

While both parties said they support marriage equality, they have been in a deadlock on the way to legalize it.

The constitutional court ruling says it is within the discretion of the authorities concerned to determine the formality for achieving the equal protection of the freedom of marriage.

The inaction of the two parties motivated opponents and supporters of same-sex marriage to initiate five referendums held together with the November elections. Both pro-same sex marriage referendums failed, while all three of the anti-same sex marriage initiatives passed.

The three successful referendums asked whether marriage should be defined as between a man and a woman in the Civil Code, whether instead of fundamentally changing the nature of marriage under the Civil Code, same-sex couples should be simply given the same legal protections as those enjoyed by heterosexuals under legal forms other than the Civil Code, and whether gay-related education should be banned at elementary and middle schools. (Kyodo)