A supporter holds a rainbow umbrella during a rally ahead of Taiwan's top court ruling on a same-sex marriage case which will decide whether it will become the first place in Asia to recognise same-sex marriage, in Taipei, Taiwan. Photo: Reuters/Tyrone Siu
A supporter holds a rainbow umbrella during a rally ahead of Taiwan's top court ruling on a same-sex marriage case which will decide whether it will become the first place in Asia to recognise same-sex marriage, in Taipei, Taiwan. Photo: Reuters/Tyrone Siu

Taiwan’s top court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage on Wednesday, a landmark decision that paves the way for the island to become the first place in Asia to legalize same-sex unions.

Crowds of supporters cheered, hugged and wept as the court said current laws preventing the practice “violated” the constitution’s guarantees of freedom of marriage and equality.

It gave the government two years to implement the ruling.

Momentum has been growing behind the push for equal marriage rights, with Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen openly supporting the campaign.

In December, around 250,000 people gathered in front of Taiwan’s Presidential Office, to join singers, public figures, concern groups and legislators from various political parties, and rally the government to amend Taiwan’s Civil Code.

But after Wednesday announcement, there has also been anger among conservative groups, who have staged mass rallies against any change in the law.

Supporters take part in a rally ahead of Taiwan’s top court ruling on same-sex marriage case in Taipei. Photo: Reuters/Tyrone Siu

The constitutional court said that if parliament does not make the change within two years, same-sex couples could register to marry regardless, based on its interpretation.

Read: 250,000 turn out in Taipei for same-sex marriage

“The current provisions of the marriage chapter do not allow two persons of the same sex to create a permanent union of an intimate and exclusive nature for the committed purpose of managing a life together. This is obviously a gross legislative flaw,” it said in a statement.

The decision to allow same-sex marriage would contribute to social stability and protect “human dignity”, it added.

Supporters react during a rally after Taiwan’s constitutional court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to legally marry. Photo: Reuters/Tyrone Siu

Hundreds of same-sex marriage supporters who had gathered outside parliament in central Taipei erupted at the news, with some breaking down in tears.

Activists addressing the crowd said they must now fight to ensure the government implements the ruling.

“I hope the law can pass by the end of the year,” said Bubu Chen, who had an unofficial marriage ceremony with his partner in 2013.

Some campaigners fear that opposing voices in parliament may try to delay the process of changing the law.

Outside Taipei’s main judicial headquarters, angry anti-gay marriage protesters beat drums shouting “unfair justice” and “sinners”, calling for the head of the judiciary to step down.

A panel of 14 grand justices made the ruling − a majority of 10 was needed. Only two judges dissented.

The court said the physical and psychological need for permanent unions was “equally essential to homosexuals and heterosexuals, given the importance of the freedom of marriage to the sound development of personality and safeguarding of human dignity”.

Flying the flag: A supporter reacts to the news. Photo: Reuters/Tyrone Siu

Taiwan’s pioneering gay rights campaigner, Chi Chia-wei, was one of the petitioners who brought the case to the constitutional court, culminating some 30 years of activism.

The other petitioner in the case was the Taipei city government, which has been rejecting marriage applications by same-sex couples and is seeking clarification of the law.

The ruling is likely to reverberate around the region, with calls for marriage equality rising in a number of countries, including South Korea and Japan.

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