Thursday, May 25, 2017

First in Asia? I think so.


I have a habit of always being connected to things, but never quite being there when the big events happen. So it is again with the absolutely huge ruling from Taiwan's highest court stating that not allowing same-sex couples to marry was unconstitutional. 

There are both good and problematic things about the ruling, but before we get into that, can we just take a minute to jump up and down and celebrate? This is HUGE. Let's just take a few minutes not to undercut that with doubts and rainclouds and just celebrate something good for a bit, 'k?

I mean it - I happen to not be in Taiwan right now, but before I could even get into the meat of this ruling, I immediately flicked off Airplane Mode upon landing at Heathrow (we have a connection to Athens that we're still waiting for), knowing the ruling would be out today, and went straight for the news. I was so happy to read those two three little words - "rules in favor" - that I started crying and jumping up and down on an escalator. Sometimes you've just got to be all holy crap holy crap oh my god holy crap congratulations Taiwan oh my god we did it we did it oh my god oh my god holy crap good job Taiwan wow wow wow wow WOW wow WOWWWW wowowowowowowowowow yayyyy!!! yayayayay yay yay yay YAY YAY YAY!!!!!

We've earned it. Celebrate, and don't feel bad about that. I am so proud to call Taiwan my home today. Good job.

I haven't been able to read the whole ruling yet - walking across an airport in tears will make that hard - but let's start with the good, because we deserve some good.

The good is that the court ruled that the civil code laws barring same-sex couples from marrying, and I quote, "are in violation of both the people’s freedom of marriage as protected by Article 22 and the people’s right to equality as guaranteed by Article 7 of the Constitution", and gave two years for the Legislative Yuan to amend the law accordingly. The mood across the country appears to be one of celebration, and yes, this ruling is historic as it is the first high court in Asia (as far as I am aware) to hand down such a ruling. Taiwan looks set to be the first country in Asia to realize marriage equality.

It is enough to make one cry, and I did.

More of the good: I do think this means that same-sex couples will get equal rights. To pass an additional civil code regulation allowing "civil unions" but not giving those civil unions the full equal rights of opposite-sex married couples would violate the spirit of the ruling and be open to challenge, and I'm sure the legislature knows that.

So, while it would not be optimal to call same-sex unions 'civil partnerships' and categorize them separately, if equality is the goal, then we need to stay focused on that. The court said clearly that the order of the day is equality, and if that means a bit more of a battle to change civil partnerships (which, by court order, must be equal, no? I'm no lawyer but this seems obvious to me?) to 'marriage', then that will still be a battle to end separate categorizing during which same-sex couples have equal rights. Again, that's not ideal, but it's a damn sight better than the alternative of no marriage equality at all.

I do also think this means Taiwan will be the first country in Asia to realize marriage equality. While I suppose it is possible for another country to get there sooner, I highly doubt this will happen. First, because no other country in Asia seems interested in beating Taiwan to this particular finish line, though activist groups in many certainly would like to see marriage equality become the norm in their respective countries (and if you don't think most Asian countries have activist groups because you stereotype Asia as uniformly conservative, you don't know Asia), the attitude I generally perceive is one of it either not being on the radar for any given country. I could also imagine other countries essentially waiting for someone else to take this step - perhaps more Asian nations will finally realize equality, but none seems as eager as Taiwan to be the first.

If the Legislative Yuan does nothing in these two years, after that time marriage equality will be de facto legal. I do not think any other country in Asia is within two years of this. Frankly, even if they were, isn't more equality for more people the true end goal, rather than the distinction of being "first"? Yes, it would be helpful for Taiwan's international image, but remember, the goal is not accolades but equality and the more of it the better. I just don't see the point in fretting too much about this.

Now for the potentially bad:

Just because anti-equality groups seem to be quiet today doesn't mean they're going away. They can't do much about this - which is why I'm happy it went through the court and not the legislature - but they'll probably push for delays, for 'civil partnerships', for whatever they can push for to oppress LGBT people for their own selfish reasons (yes, if you are anti-equality, your personal dislike of LGBT people driving your desire to keep them from attaining equal rights is selfish and it is bigoted). Two years is a long time, and it remains to be seen whether the DPP will get this over with soon or hem and haw and let it become an electoral issue. I really hope it's the former, because the goal is equality as soon as possible. Alternatively they could wait out the two years and just let marriage equality become de facto legal.

And, remember, despite what Facebook chatter is saying, this does not mean marriage equality is automatically legal right now - more needs to be done.

But this is huge, and we all deserve a good drink, a good dance, a good hug, a good cry, and a good party. 

I am so happy for you, Taiwan. So, so happy. 


Matt Stone said...

Fairly safe to say that Taiwan will be first. Can't see too many other Asian countries acting anytime soon. Some of them are marching steadily backwards into the dark ages (e.g. Malaysia and Indonesia).

It made the radio news this morning (often a sign of newsworthiness), and it will be interesting to see what kind of impact this has in Australia. We are now lagging seriously behind on this issue. Our politicians have stalled the whole debate.

Unknown said...

This is really great news!

I have - due to my girlfriend's family - also access to those opponent groups (Evangelical Christians, oftentimes even KMT followers or families that came here with the KMT in 1949), and it is interesting to see their reaction. Actually even a bit frightening how they are now using long-debunked "alternative facts" to still sway opinions.

However it's still fascinating to see one filter bubble (I'm not saying I live in one either, but at least I'm aware of it) from outside, and peek into how information gets processed or spread there. I hope one day I will have the courage (and the linguistic proficiency in Mandarin) to actually pop that bubble in a way that makes them understand that the World at large - especially those countries in which the quality of living, and general living standards are high - supports marriage equality and shuns discrimination.

There is a high correlation between a country that is good to live in, and its acceptance of human rights and civil liberties. And I am proud that Taiwan is following the examples of countries such as Norway, Sweden, Finland (and in terms of "civil partnerships" that have equal legal rights as marriage, a large part of Europe), rather than Saudi Arabia, Uganda, Iran or Indonesia.