Around 250,000 people gathered in front of Taiwan’s Presidential Office on Saturday, urging the government to legalize same-sex marriage.
Singers, public figures, concern groups and legislators from various political parties turned out to voice their support. The rallying call was for the government to amend Taiwan’s Civil Code.
The event, which took the form of a concert, was staged to coincide with international Human Rights Day. It came a week after some 70,000 people took to the streets of downtown Taipei to oppose same-sex marriage.
Taiwan has been tipped to become the first place in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage, but public opinions remain divided. Debate has centered around whether the government should extend marriage rights to all by amending the Civil Code to insert gender neutral terms in place of ones implying heterosexual marriage, or pass a special law that merely grants legal status to same-sex couples.
Conservatives, religious groups and many older citizens back the latter option: they worry that amending the Civil Code to let same-sex couples marry will destroy traditional family values, and have urged a national referendum on the issue. Most progressives and younger Taiwanese support the former proposal, however. They believe marriage is a basic human right and that any law that preserves segregation will reinforce discrimination.
In an ambiguous statement, released via Alex Huang, her spokesman, on Saturday evening, Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, reiterated support for the push for equality. “Same-sex couples also have the right to marriage,” she said, while calling for “more discussion but less confrontation” on the issue. Tsai has not in fact stated whether she favours amending the Civil Code or a special law.
The government’s Executive Yuan and Ministry of Justice both announced on Sunday that they do not intend to propose marriage equality bills, in any form, for the Legislative Yuan to consider. This would avoid conflicts, they said.
Opinions inside the governing Democratic Progressive Party remain divided, and are unlikely to coalesce any time soon, the Majority Leader of the Legislative Yuan, Ker Chien-ming, said in a radio interview on Monday morning.
In her statement, Tsai commented on the debate by saying “all voices should be heard and given the chance to seek support in the Legislature.”
Previous attempts to enshrine marriage equality in Taiwan have failed. Three draft Civil Code amendments have been proposed by different parties in the Legislative Yuan in 2016. Two passed their first reading on November 8 and were referred to the judiciary committee for discussion.
The committee discussed the proposals on November 17, but the debate exposed sharply divided views in the country and it was agreed public hearings should be held before the proposals advance any further. There will be a committee review on December 26, after which the amendments will have to pass second and third readings before becoming law.