On the day same-sex marriage officially arrived in Taiwan, Jennifer Lu described feeling “terrified” as advocates worked to ensure that an event celebrating the moment would come to fruition.
“Marriage registration in Taiwan is not hard: a couple, two witnesses, sign the paper, pay and then it’s done. It’s an easy process,” Lu said. “But it took the LGBTQ community a really long time to get here.”
On May 24, a historic vote in the Legislative Yuan made Taiwan the first place in Asia to recognize same-sex marriage. The legislation followed the May 24, 2018 first-of-its-kind ruling by the Constitutional Court of Taiwan, which stated that the prohibition of same-sex marriage was unconstitutional under the Civil Code and madated that within a year the National Yuan amend the country’s marriage law to allow marriage equality or to enact new legislation.
Recently, Lu joined Joyce Teng and other advocates from the Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan at HRC headquarters in Washington, D.C., to discuss the path to this historic victory. Advocates also met with HRC staff to share lessons learned about experiences in advocating for equality and building their organizational capacity as they expand beyond campaigning for marriage.
“We see narratives from the U.S. being copied into the opposition in Taiwan,” Teng said. “We are looking to find a way to show that the LGBT community and our traditional culture can coexist in Taiwan because Taiwanese culture cares about respect, about social harmony and helping each other.”
“Because of Taiwan’s achievement, more Asian activists think it’s possible for them as well -- as long as they prepare enough and strategize and have a brave group of people willing to share their stories,” Lu said.
Lu described the journey to achieving same-sex marriage as “very difficult.” There were only three paths to legalizing same-sex marriage in Taiwan: through the constitutional court, a public vote or the country’s legislature.
“We went through all three of them within three years,” Lu said.
With the support of American exporters of hate, such as Brian Brown, anti-LGBTQ advocates succeeded in getting five referenda put on Taiwan’s November 2018 ballot to prevent marriage equality and undermine LGBTQ-inclusive education in schools. Anti-equality forces sowed fear and misinformation to derail the progress towards marriage equality.
But Lu and Teng see a silver lining in the painful experience.
“Although the referenda caused a lot of damage to our community, it also provided an opportunity to show that LGBT people exist,” Teng said. “It created a political opportunity for more legal changes beyond marriage.”
One of the next fights for Taiwanese LGBTQ advocates will be to protect the Gender Equity Education Act and to enshrine protections for LGBTQ families into law. With the momentum and visibility generated by the marriage decision, Lu and Teng say they hope more victories will follow -- both for the Taiwan’s LGBTQ community and for other Asian countries.
“Taiwan is sending a message that LGBT culture is not only a western concept,” Lu said. “LGBT rights are human rights. It’s a global issue.”