Showing posts with label marriage. Show all posts
Showing posts with label marriage. Show all posts

Sunday, May 26, 2019

I didn't need to yell at those bigots

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The future

I set out yesterday with two goals: to check out the inflatable 'tank man' (the iconic protester from the Tiananmen Square massacre) that has appeared in front of Murderous Dictator Memorial Hall as this is the 30th anniversary of those tragic events, and to get some reading done for my dissertation. My route took me through Freedom Square, where I encountered some anti-gay protesters near the arched Freedom Square gate.

They claimed to be against the new same-sex marriage law because it went against "the will of the people" as laid out in that messed-up referendum last November, but in truth, they were simply anti-gay. Here's how you can tell.

A woman shouting into a microphone made points like:

"We voted against gay marriage in the referendum. But they passed it anyway. I ask you - is this democracy?"

Of course, that's not what happened in the referendum. As black metal frontman and Sexy Legislator Freddy Lim helpfully pointed out, the referendum didn't do that: it specifically (though unclearly) asked if people agreed with changing the civil code to allow same-sex couples to marry, or if that should be done by a separate law. The people voted not to change the civil code, but for 'the rights and interests of same-sex unions to be protected' (if I'm translating that right) through some other law. That is what the referendum questions said. Period, end of story, the end, buh-bye. They did not ask if we should not allow any kind of same-sex unions. 


When the government voted to allow same-sex couples to register their marriages (and make no mistake, they are marriages), they not only did so through a separate law just as the referendum asked them to, but even took out the word 'marriage' in one of the articles as a compromise in a bill that was already a compromise. The bill does say couples can register their "marriage" in another article, but...that is what they have, isn't it? What else would it even be called? What gives the anti-gay side the right to define that word?

In any case, a referendum does not supercede a decision by the highest court. When the legislators acted, they acted in keeping with the principles of democracy (as opposed to populism), in which all people are equal under the law, and no group can vote away the rights or equality of another group. I doubt those protesters were unaware of this.


So no, they're not angry about the referendum. That's an excuse, and not a very logical one. They're angry because they hate gays.

In any case, they were all over the age of 50 or so, and there were maybe 20 of them. So when that woman said "I ask you, is this democracy?" I shouted back "YES!" (all in Mandarin of course).

"Can the government do this?"

"THEY CAN!"

Her: "No they can't!"

Me: "You don't understand how referendums work!"

Her: "This isn't democracy!"

Me: "If you don't like equal rights, go to China!"


I may have also laughed loudly at them. (By "may have" I mean, I did.)



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So many more people than those angry folks at Freedom Square


Anyway, some very polite police officers came up asked me nicely not to do that, and recommended I go to Ketagalan Boulevard just down the road, where I hadn't realized there was a big, super fun, super gay banquet being prepared. I've been working on my dissertation, okay? I can't keep up with everything these days. Anyway, they were really nice about it, and didn't even take my name...probably because white privilege.

I said "but they just hate gays! They don't care about the referendum!"

Police officer: "Yeah, I know. But they registered their little protest." (translated but pretty direct quote, which I think was pretty cool.)

I did leave - the police were super chill about it and that's fine - but not because I thought it was wrong to shout at some anti-gay protesters. They have the right under freedom of speech and assembly to voice their (bigoted) views. They don't have the right not to face consequences for those views, like being told they're bigoted in public. I didn't force them to stop or take away their microphone, and I couldn't have ejected them if I'd wanted to as it's public space and that's what freedom of speech means. So, no regret there. 


I don't even regret doing it as a foreigner - they probably aren't going to be convinced that same-sex marriage is a local cause in Taiwan. They probably don't care that the anti-gay side is the one that turned to Western hate groups for funding and advice whereas pro-equality groups mostly kept their effort local (though I've heard that some foreign donations did come in late in the game). And I live here too - this is my home and what happens here affects me. As a resident, I also have the right to freedom of speech (really - look it up.)

But, I'd made my point and it was time to move on.

I passed the mass wedding banquet as it was being set up - a friend noted that it was organized by TAPCPR (the Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights) and again on my way home when it was in full swing. There were photo backdrops, musical performers, a huge 'flower car' stage and some vendors selling beer, water and promotional goodies. As the banquet was an official function, people who wanted to celebrate but weren't on the guest list came and pickicked on the perimeter. A large screen showing the events on stage was set up for them. The crowd was young, vibrant and enthusiastic. They'd finally grabbed a tiny corner of the privilege to be treated equally and humanely that society had denied them for so long. They were the future.



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Picknickers - the main banquet was closer to the Presidential Office


And let me tell you - it was huge. The crowd of thousands (including the banquet-goers) dwarfed the twenty or so oldsters across Jingfu Gate screaming falsehoods about the referendum. Though I didn't see it, I'm also told the oldsters had an audio recording of crying sounds and a hearse (!) at some point.

Which, LOL. Okay. I guess if you're that self-victimizing (seeing as same-sex marriage doesn't affect them at all) and imagine yourself downtrodden (despite being in the age and class that has held so much power and privilege in Taiwan for so long) you have to turn to histrionics.

So in the end, I went home thinking that I didn't really need to yell at them. Not because I was wrong to do so - I truly don't believe that I was, and don't think I actually broke any law - but because it simply wasn't necessary.

The huge crowd across the street, and all the happiness they exuded, made the same point far more effectively.

The aging protesters will look more and more ridiculous as marriage equality slowly becomes an accepted norm in Taiwan, and normal people realize that the sun is still in the sky and the Earth is still spinning and nothing has changed about their own lives, and that if they don't like same-sex unions they don't have to have one. They'll cry and weep and rend their garments, and we will ignore them. (Though let's not get complacent about 2020 - we will eventually win but they will certainly try to use this against Our Lady of Spice, Tsai Ing-wen).

The future held a much bigger party, a much younger party. They won, love won, and Taiwan won, and the angry oldsters with their hearses and black signs can die mad about it. 

Saturday, May 18, 2019

What it meant to be an ally when Taiwan became the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage

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I wrote a longer reflection yesterday in which I wandered through many thoughts and emotions on yesterday's historic legislation. For this post, I want to highlight one thing that I think is important when you support an issue or social movement, but aren't a part of the group that that movement affects most deeply. That is, I want to talk about what it meant to be an ally standing in the crowd yesterday (yes, there is a little repetition between the two posts). Let's start here:

The level of civic engagement continues to impress me so much, and proves that Taiwan cannot be grouped so easily as a stereotypical 'Confucian', 'collectivist' society with wholly conservative values. It may be true that many young Taiwanese won't engage with their more conservative elders on these issues, but it's not true that they won't find other ways to oppose the old order of unfairness and inequality and a million -isms and phobia that those elders represent.


One of the arguments of the anti-gay camp is that ideas like marriage equality are 'Western' or 'foreign' and go against Taiwan's 'traditional culture' (they say 'Chinese' but I won't.) You know, all that Confucianism and collectivism and filial piety and what not. It's not that those aren't real facets of the culture, it's just that the whole culture cannot be reduced to them, nor can the actions or beliefs of any individual be explained wholly through them. People are not slaves to whatever aspect of their culture someone has decided explains their motives, and culture isn't static anyhow. 20 years ago you could have said the same thing about American culture. 

Of course equal rights have been a part of Taiwanese culture for some time now, and there is no incompatibility with Taiwanese culture (any incompatibility which seems to exist has been invented for political purposes).

So it really mattered that the people in the front rows and on stage, the crowds on camera were overwhelmingly Taiwanese. If 'marriage equality' is not compatible with 'Taiwanese culture', what were all those people who are Taiwanese and exist within a Taiwanese cultural milieu doing there?

Or as President of Taiwan and my current crush Tsai Ing-wen put it:




This movement was started by Taiwanese, carried by Taiwanese and the success they brought about yesterday was done by Taiwanese. There was no 'Western infiltration' about it. (In fact, the anti-gay side is the one that had to look to the West to figure out how to spread its hate, bringing in foreigners like Katy Faust to speak against equality and justice.)

It's important to keep repeating this, because that same opposition keeps accusing the pro-equality movement of doing the same, when it emphatically has not. The side that stands for equality has allies who stand with them. The side that stands against equality has foreign actors trying to help manipulate a certain outcome in Taiwan. And they are the ones who invented that 'goes against traditional Taiwanese culture' nonsense.

Marriage has meant many things in Taiwan over the centuries, including plural marriage, family-alliance marriage (that is, not love marriage) and marriage to ghosts. In China, there is a clear cultural tradition of homosexuality (at least among the upper classes).

It's actually a reductive neo-essentialist perspective - which is inherently Western - which turns so-called 'traditional values' into culturally static and immutable obstacles, a view one tends to take of cultural facets viewed from afar without full understanding. That almost every young person in Taiwan is pro-equality and yet still just as Taiwanese as their grandparents, however, shows that this outsider essentialist view of Taiwan is wrong. 


As an American who was in Taiwan for most of the culmination of the marriage equality movement in the US and so unable to participate (again as an ally - I'm straight and cis), it felt important to be a part of the support to make it happen in Taiwan, because it's my home. I have a place here too. What happens in Taiwan affects me.

And that place was being part of the crowd. Not onstage like a reverse Katy Faust, not a key part of the movement or even vital to it, but a participant who adds her physical presence to the movement. Foreigners were there lending their support too, but it's Taiwanese who led this, Taiwanese who made up the majority of that crowd, and Taiwanese who won. We just stood by them, and that was a meaningful place to be.


As an ally, I've reconsidered my own feelings on the Executive Yuan bill which passed yesterday - after being initially upset and disappointed, it became clear that Taiwanese LGBT groups and the local LGBT community were supporting it, and to be a good ally, I should follow their lead.

Let's stop telling Taiwan what its culture is, while we're at it. Let's quit it with the "but Taiwan is like this" or "Taiwan can't do that, because culture and reasons" or "but Taiwan is so Confucian and collectivist". Pish. Instead, let's be allies and let them tell us. 



It's a humbling, meaningful and impactful place to be. I recommend trying it. 

Friday, May 17, 2019

The sky is brightening: personal reflections on Taiwan recognizing same-sex marriage rights

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During the Sunflower Movement, Taiwanese rock band Fire Extinguisher sang that "the sky is brightening" (“天色漸漸光”)in their hit song "Island Sunrise".

Five years later, as several thousand people or more stood outside the legislature for hours in the pouring rain, clad in damp rainbow gear under beleaguered umbrellas to watch legislative proceedings on same-sex marriage, the sky brightened again, both literally and figuratively.

First, a rundown of how the legislative proceedings went (for a summary of goings-on at the rally, check out New Bloom, and here's my summary of what's happened over the past few weeks). The morning was a bit chaotic, with proceedings kicking off late, and every legislator being given three minutes to voice their opinion, time which many (though not all) legislators took. Freddy Lim and You Mei-nu spoke particularly articulately in favor of equality, while anti-equality legislators, as usual, voiced concerns that defied logic. These "concerns" included points such as "if we pass this, then referendums have no meaning!" (when the reason why this bill creates a separate law rather than changing the civil code is due to the referendum results) and questioning whether the legislature actually had to listen to the court (...uh, yes).


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Then the Executive Yuan bill went through a line-by-line reading and passed every article in turn, with some 'controversial' amendments. The crowd cheered and proclaimed victory as Article 4, which specifically uses the term 'marriage' in relation to same-sex unions, passed with a narrow majority of 66 votes. Reviews continued into the afternoon as legislators skipped lunch. Notably, KMT legislators Jason Hsu and Chiang Wan-an voted for it, with DPP anti-gay legislator Lin Tai-hua voting against.

At that point, I was curled up under my rainbow umbrella with my butt perched on a rain-drenched half-wall outside an entrance to NTU Hospital. I was shunted with much of the crowd to Jinan Road, as the main rally on Qingdao Road was at capacity. Around me, scores of young Taiwanese were following live feeds on their phones of the legislative proceedings nearby (a jumbo screen on Qingdao Road had a live feed for people on that side).



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I ran into a friend and we grabbed coffee together as the review dragged. The rain continued to pummel the attendees still outside the legislature. But you know what? Most of them stayed. Hours it dragged on, and let's be honest, legislative proceedings are kind of boring. Connectivity was awful. Everyone was soaked despite having umbrellas and rain ponchos. There was nowhere to sit. But they stayed - thousands, maybe tens of thousands - to watch legislation drag on together on a screen most of them couldn't actually see.

By the time I made it back to the legislature, the rain let up. The sky brightened.



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A few more controversial things happened - a last-minute motion by the NPP to deal with the international marriage issue (so that foreign nationals from countries that don't recognize marriage equality would be able to marry their same-sex Taiwanese partners) failed, with the entire DPP voting against it...for no good reason. The clause that would allow people to adopt the biological children of their same-sex spouse, but not to jointly adopt an unrelated child, remained in place (with no changes to the lack of access to fertility treatments for same-sex couples, and no surrogacy services in Taiwan).


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But the sky brightened nonetheless. The proceedings dragged on. The people stayed as the rain dissipated and the sun came out, turning puddles of cool rainwater into humid vapor. I ran into another friend and we stood on the now somewhat-less crowded Qingdao Road, steaming in our clothes as the final articles passed review, and hopeful young activists clad in rainbows counted down each one.


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Then it was time for the final countdown - the vote on the overall bill. A flawed bill that does not grant true marriage equality, but a form of same-sex marriage (using the word "marriage") nonetheless. When it passed, the crowd erupted. Some screamed, some cried. The sun shone bright as Taiwan became the first country in Asia to give same-sex couples access to their right to marry: a massive shift in the mood and the weather from morning to afternoon.

The wait from the beginning of the session until the final vote was about 6 hours - approximately 10am to 4pm. But those activists had been standing in the metaphorical rain for far longer than that. The battle for same-sex marriage in Taiwan has been shorter than in many other countries: it wasn't  an issue being discussed widely just 5 years ago, when the sky brightened for the Sunflowers (though dedicated activists had been working on it in smaller numbers for some time prior to that). The fight, however, was as vicious and all-consuming as this morning's rain, and it's not over yet.



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All I can say is that I am just so impressed with Taiwan today. If you thought the dedication of the Sunflowers was a thing of the past, I submit humbly that it continues in a different form, through a different kind of adversity.

I don't imagine there are many countries that would end a marriage equality rally with a performance by a black metal band, as Taiwan did. I don't think there are many where 10,000 or more people would stand resolutely and unflinchingly in the soaking rain just to be physically present for an interminable legislative session. The level of civic engagement continues to impress me so much, and proves that Taiwan cannot be grouped so easily as a stereotypical 'Confucian', 'collectivist' society with wholly conservative values. It may be true that many young Taiwanese won't engage with their more conservative elders on these issues, but it's not true that they won't find other ways to oppose the old order of unfairness and inequality and a million -isms and phobia that those elders represent.

One of the arguments of the anti-gay camp is that ideas like marriage equality are 'Western' or 'foreign' and go against Taiwan's 'traditional culture' (they say 'Chinese' but I won't.) 

But of course equal rights have been a part of Taiwanese culture for some time now, and there is no incompatibility with Taiwanese culture (any incompatibility which seems to exist has been invented for political purposes). 

So it really mattered that the people in the front rows and on stage, the crowds on camera were overwhelmingly Taiwanese. This movement was started by Taiwanese, carried by Taiwanese and the success they brought about yesterday was done by Taiwanese. There was no 'Western infiltration' about it. (In fact, the anti-gay side is the one that had to look to the West to figure out how to spread its hate, bringing in foreigners like Katy Faust to speak against equality and justice.) It's important to keep repeating this, because that same opposition keeps accusing the pro-equality movement of doing the same, when it emphatically has not. 


As an American who was in Taiwan for most of the culmination of the marriage equality movement in the US and so unable to participate, it felt important to be a part of the support to make it happen in Taiwan, because it's my home. I have a place here too. And that place was being part of the crowd. Not onstage like a reverse Katy Faust, not a key part of the movement or even vital to it, but a participant who adds her physical presence to the crowd.



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And it may be true that the DPP will suffer for this in 2020, but somehow I doubt it. They may lose, but I don't think it will be because of this. That they managed to get it through despite absolutely vicious opposition might just win back the young voters who were talking about abandoning them. Besides, people talk about the 2018 KMT sweep as though it had anything to do with conservative 'family values', when it didn't. It was about local governance - and we know that because the NPP drastically expanded its electoral reach despite being wholly pro-equality. They would have suffered the way the DPP did if marriage equality were truly the wedge issue that opponents and pessimists say it is. Most likely scenario? By 2020 same-sex marriage will be normalized, and no longer an issue for the DPP. After all, something had to be done after the 2017 ruling. Best-case scenario? This will actually work in their favor as the progressives who were disenchanted with them come running back.

Besides, in every country where same-sex marriage or marriage equality has been passed, it has simply ceased to be an issue (unlike, say, abortion, which remains contentious in the US because some people hate women.) The party that passed it has generally not suffered electoral losses as a result, as people learn fairly quickly that their gay fellow citizens are indeed normal human beings who deserve equal rights and what was all the fuss about anyway? I can't imagine Taiwan wouldn't go the same way.




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And if you think this has nothing to do with the spirit of the Sunflowers, this guy is here to tell you
that you are wrong. And he wasn't the only one. 

If they do lose in 2020 over this, then they will have stood for what was right in the face of a tyrannical, hateful majority. True liberal progressives won't forget that, and it will come back to them someday. It would be sad to see if that's the case, but the solution could never have been for them simply not to stand for what was right.

As a Facebook friend posted regarding the anti-equality referendum result last year (kept anonymous as the post is not public:

"And yet, the government went ahead with the law. Why? Well, this is what distinguishes democracy from populism. Democracy is not merely about majority voting: it is also about adhering to basic principles protecting minorities from the tyranny of the majority."

But they did, and the future leaders of Taiwan did as well. We stood in the rain for hours...for years.

The fight for full equality is not over, but the sky is brighter now, and the future is too. 



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Thursday, February 21, 2019

Government Proposes Marriage Inequality

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While everyone is celebrating the draft same-sex partnership law that has been announced and will move to the legislature for debate, here I am - as always - sucking vinegar and taking names.

That's not to say there's nothing good about the draft law - just that it isn't marriage equality and we can't rightfully call it that. And I wouldn't say I oppose the law, but you won't find me shouting my support from the rooftops either. I hope it passes, but if you want my enthusiasm, well, sorry to disappoint. 

Therefore, while we can say that Taiwan will be the first country to offer some kind of same-sex "marriage", and they even call it  "marriage" in the draft, it's not equal, period.

There are some positives: next-of-kin rights (medical visitation, making medical decisions, inheritances) seem to be included, so previous real-life situations in which someone was in the hospital and their same-sex partner could not visit or make decisions for them, or when someone died and their estate went to their blood family and not the person who was their spouse in all but legal name will be averted. That's a very important big win. We can also assume that this will include the ability to buy insurance together, be on the same medical insurance plans etc. - not as big a deal in Taiwan given the NHI system, but still important.

And, of course, the proposal specifically uses the word "marriage", which does matter. Words mean things; they imply a definition of truth. The Executive Yuan didn't have to use that word - they could have called it something more like "union" or "partnership" but didn't, which sends a strong message. Good.

It is not, however, equal marriage.

At the risk of angering some people (though I'm not at all sorry), some other aspects of this draft law are some big fat Jim Crow bullshit.

Same-sex couples will not gain the right of co-adoption; one spouse may adopt only the biological offspring of the other. That means no adopting orphaned children, and it also creates some very difficult barriers.

Fertility treatments and surrogacy are not easily obtainable by single people in Taiwan; often the treatments are only available to married couples at any price (it's not an issue of these treatments not being covered by NHI; unmarried people are simply banned from accessing them). From the Storm Media piece, the "special law" says that giving these treatments to same sex couples will be "at the competent authorities' discretion", whatever that means. So it may be quite difficult for same-sex couples to even have biological children, if they are denied access by these "competent authorities".

The issue of international marriage is not mentioned in the law, and appears for now to therefore not be covered. Storm Media's link above implies that it will  that it will only be possible to marry a same-sex foreigner if that foreigner's country of citizenship also recognizes same-sex marriage. That's not quite the case, necessarily: it would be quite possible to overrule the prohibition on marrying in this case, citing it as a disruptor of 'public order' in Taiwan. My lawyer friend says he hopes that this is how such cases are interpreted going forward. 

The "religious freedom" clause, which specifically says this marriage bill will not interfere with anyone's right to practice their religion as they wish, is unclear. I'm not opposed to it on its face; if someone wants to believe in some gay-hating sky friend, I think that's kind of dumb and bigoted but I don't think they must be legally mandated to change their (dumb and bigoted) religious beliefs. Freedom of religion is a basic right after all. But, it's unclear whether that will extend to allowing employers to discriminate against LGBT employees, or businesses to discriminate against LGBT customers, on the basis of religion. This needs to be clarified.

There is also a minor difference in the legal age of marriage, but it's more likely that the actual marriage law (rather than this unequal "special law") will be amended so that the age of consent to marry is the same across genders.

And, finally, this "special law" doesn't establish an official "in-law" relationship. I'm not quite sure what that means in practice, but it is a difference.

For all of these reasons, I simply cannot say that Taiwan is on the cusp of marriage equality. There will be some form of marriage with this law - which has not passed yet, by the way, it's just about to reach the legislature now and needs to be debated and voted on - but the fight isn't over.

The good news is that the unequal aspects of this law can be challenged in court, and I have to believe they were designed to be easily toppled. The Council of Grand Justices ruling in May 2017 specifically said that, as all citizens must have access to equal rights, that the right to marry must therefore be equal.

This does not confer equality, and therefore does not quite adhere to the constitutional interpretation ruling, and so is subject to legal challenge on those grounds. I am sure it will be challenged, and there's a strong foundation for making that happen relatively expediently while ensuring that the most egregious withholding of rights (next-of-kin issues) are handled.

It's a step, but I have to admit I grow tired of these half-steps. It happened with dual nationality too (allowing some special magic foreigners to qualify for dual nationality and relegating the rest of us to Garbage Foreigner status).

I know it's hard to convince more conservative factions of society that sweeping change is necessary, but real lives are impacted in the meantime, and it's tiring to be expected to compromise with Granny Bigot (age shouldn't be a factor but public opinion polls show that there is a strong age correlation) while waiting for access to rights (like marriage) and privileges (like dual nationality) that meaningfully change our lives. I get that there are political strategies to consider, but I personally am fine with letting Granny Bigot be upset.


I also don't feel all "rah rah hooray" when I know that this 'special law' is essentially an encouragement to keep fighting, not a summative victory.

The good news is that this is really angering conservative groups in Taiwan. Awesome! I hope all of their kids are gay. (That's not a punishment, it'll make Taiwan more awesome, but it'll also make them mad and make them think they're suffering...and that's great.)


So what can we do in the meantime?

To ensure that Taiwan moves toward actual marriage equality, we can donate to any number of pro-equality groups so that they have the funds to mount legal challenges, for starters. Here's a good place to start.

We can talk to relatives who disagree. Rallies are nice and stickers are great, and so are banners in hipster cafes, but the real change will happen when we start talking to the people in our lives about what equality means and why it matters for Taiwan (and everywhere). That if Taiwan stands for freedom and human rights, this is an essential part of it.

And while I won't tell others they can't celebrate, I'm holding off on my party. I will neither relax nor celebrate until we get actual marriage equality in Taiwan.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

The party's starting late (or: it's your country - save it yourself)

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We are all Taiwan souls


Just some thoughts in the warm light of day. 

I'm a little hungover this morning, so I got up late and put up this flag just to remind myself that the fight's not over. 

I have less to say about the races so I'll talk about marriage equality. Honestly, I think that's the one we all cared about the most. 

First, yes, despite the deliberately confusing wording of the referendums, we were a bit too early to the party for marriage equality in Taiwan. The old folks came out and voted, and they showed that the wrong side of history still holds sway here. 

But let's remember a few things. We were early to the party, but what we heard last night wasn't the voice of eternal conservatism in Taiwan. What we heard is that the party is still on, it's just going to start later than expected. 

Young people are more disenfranchised in Taiwan's voting system: they're broke, they can't vote absentee even though they're less likely to live where they are registered, they work long hours so it's hard to travel back. Some perhaps didn't vote because they knew they'd be harangued by their elders for voting the "wrong" (actually the right) way. It doesn't change the fact that the younger generation DOES think differently for the most part, and unlike views on things like fiscal policy, this isn't a view that grows more conservative with age. They got complacent perhaps, because all their friends are pro-equality too so it seemed like the country was more firmly on their side. They thought 10, 11 and 12 would be defeated, so it didn't matter if it was inconvenient to vote. But the old folks will die and the younger ones will do better. 

Let's remember as well that the pro-equality side had far less funding - why aren't you guys donating, by the way? - and young people are too busy and broke to volunteer. You could see it in their materials: their brochures weren't as glossy or thick, or as great in number, because they didn't have the cash. Unlike the bigots, who could recruit housewives with nothing better to do, their supporters work long hours just to get by and so they couldn't get out and volunteer as much. But that doesn't mean supporters don't exist. 

People might say "Taiwan is a conservative society" and I have to admit there's some truth to that. But it is not conservative across the board: older folks still hold a lot of cultural power, but the winds of change are blowing. They were blowing in the US in the 1960s, even though most people still opposed civil rights (the majority were against the Civil Rights Act when it passed). They were blowing in the 1970s and 80s, when most people thought the participants of the Kaohsiung Incident were ruffians and 'bad elements', because the KMT dictatorship portrayed them that way in the media. Now we know better. Both the US and Taiwan still have a long way to go, but we have come some distance. 

And yes, some people were tricked. My student on Friday was talking about how a "separate law" could still be "equal", and I had to set him straight (he'd heard misinformation). A former student said the referendums were so confusing that they seemed to have been written by "an elementary-school student". A lot of people who theoretically believe in equality but are still coming to terms with this new world of LGBT acceptance thought the wording of #12 sounded tempting. A lot of people were misled to believe that the problem with sex education in schools is that it starts too young (it doesn't, by the way) - that's what the commercials said - and don't realize that the intention is to ban it from school altogether. 

While the anti-gay referendums might still have gotten more votes than the pro-equality ones had the wording been clearer, I honestly doubt they would have passed. That's what the anti-gay Christians had to do to get votes: to deliberately confuse people. If Taiwan really agreed with them, they could have written three clear proposals. It says a lot that they didn't. 


The fact that the bigots had to deliberately make the wording fuzzy and spread lies to get votes, that they had to pour so much money into their campaign, and that they had to move from trying to "portray LGBT people as morally degenerate" (to quote a friend) to "we support a separate law to protect LGBT rights and interests" shows that they had to pretend to care about equality to get all those votes. Taiwanese people did not vote "WE HATE GAYS" last night. The Christian jerks lost that battle. They voted "we're scared of change, so let's pick this thing that seems like equality so we don't feel too terrible. After all, aren't we still protecting LGBT rights if there's a separate law?"

(No, but I can see why some people were convinced that this was the case.)


Someone else I know pointed out that conservative forces in Taiwan have been studying US electoral politics, and I agree. The deep green conservatives who want global recognition for Taiwan got played with a bunch of needless 'culture war' garbage that has actually set back their goal. Marriage equality was one way to get Taiwan into the headlines, and now Taiwan looks bad. I hope they're happy. They pulled a Trump in Kaohsiung (Han Kuo-yu is not only terrifyingly right-wing populist, he can barely answer questions and never gives details, and beats people up for no reason at all). They're doing a really good job in getting us lefties to all hate each other for no goddamn reason. 

The US voted right-wing in 2016 too, and those of us who are trying to bend the arc of history towards justice realized we weren't fighting hard enough, and we weren't fighting well enough. We realized that marching around with signs is only part of the equation, and we needed to start politicking (again to quote a friend) and stop shitting all over every incremental improvement that was not the total change we wanted. I think Taiwanese youth will realize this too, and stop thinking that only 100% moral purity will do, or that anything less than 100% victory is defeat - and it's time to start politicking. 

We should have learned this in 2014, when the Sunflowers stopped CSSTA and effected a huge electoral change not because every one of their demands was met, but because they ended the occupation after a sufficient victory. Their slogan was 自己的國家,自己救 (it's your country, save it yourself) - and we should have learned from that and not just trusted politicians to do the right thing or for 10, 11 and 12 to fail.

Or we could have learned it during the Wild Strawberries, where they were broadly ignored in their time but have had a big influence on Taiwan in the 2010s. Or we could have learned this during the Kaohsiung Incident, which broadly failed in its day (many participants went to jail, some were tortured), but they kept fighting.


Culture wars work to get out the vote, and as I do suspect that the KMT cut a deal with churches to quash marriage equality for votes (I can't prove this; I just suspect it), which with the deep green conservatives, pushed the anti-equality initiatives over the top. But neither the US nor Taiwan is homogenously bigoted. We might be post-Sunflower in Taiwan now, but Taiwan is not only a 'conservative society'. Remember that it was the Christians - people who follow a Western religion - who spearheaded this. They got others to agree, but non-Christian Taiwanese were not leading the fight. 

And it's ridiculous to let Christians define what it means to be Taiwanese. Taiwan is not a Christian nation. Even if you consider Taiwanese culture to be an outgrowth of Chinese culture (which I don't), Chinese culture was not particularly traditionally opposed to homosexuality. While things may have been different for everyday people, rulers often had gay lovers and nobody cared as long as they produced heirs. There's an entire opera - The Butterfly Lovers (梁祝) - in which a boy falls in love with a girl dressed like a boy, and is conflicted (in the end she's to be married to someone else and they both commit suicide.) In the opera, his confusion over his feelings is merely described; it is not condemned. Being anti-gay is not inherently Chinese (if you think Taiwan has Chinese heritage, which, again, I don't). It may be Neo-Confucian and Christian-tinged authoritarian (the Chiangs were Christian), but it is not "Chinese". 

The 100,000+ people who have turned out for pro-equality events are Taiwanese too. The few million who did vote for equality are Taiwanese too. Those who got tricked into voting for 'a separate law' but are actually not bigoted are Taiwanese too. People say that ascribing certain 'Western' values to Taiwan makes white folks like me 'culturally imperialist', but I'm not the one doing it. I'm describing what they are doing, and they have just as much of a say in what is or is not 'Taiwanese' as the old conservatives.

I mean, when America sort-of voted for Trump, liberals didn't think "oh, I guess that means we don't have any say in what it means to be American". We re-evaluated what we thought we knew about our country, realized we needed a new strategy, and kept fighting, because we were and are just as American as anyone from Trump Country.

What's more, in the US once marriage equality was made law, it ceased to be a relevant issue. Just as with every other country in the world - and even in the US's own past with abolition, suffrage and civil rights - often popular opinion follows law rather than preceding it. That's not the typical order in Asia (generally things don't change here until popular opinion supports a change), but that doesn't mean it's impossible. In fact, I suspect in the years after May 2019 when some sort of same-sex unions become law, they will then become normalized. Then, the groundwork will be there for true equality. 


And yes, a lot of young people also voted against equality, because they grew up in conservative families. Because Taiwan is more "filial piety"-oriented (well, Neo-Confucian obedience-oriented - Confucius never envisioned 'filial piety' this way) it will take longer, but more will break free as they grow, and the ones who do not will not be the definitive voice of the next generation. 

So we need to support them - with our time, our advice from the battles we've fought in our own countries, and our money (DONATE, YOU GUYS) - so they can make this party happen for real. We need to engage with them and they need to figure out how to engage with their elders. 

Let's remember as well that the DPP may be spineless, and they don't all support us, but they didn't want marriage equality to be decided by the electorate for just this reason. They knew how it'd turn out, and they knew what the more conservative wing of their base thought. So they may lack moral courage, but we do have allies among some of them. We can't make the mistake of thinking that electing them will fix everything again: it's your country, save it yourself. 

The good news is that their conservative base is pro-Taiwan, and Taiwan stands for equality and human rights. I do believe that some of them can be convinced in the coming years, if we make the right arguments about marriage equality being good for the country's international profile, for Taiwan's economy, and for Taiwanese values, of which equality is a part.


Another bright spot as well is that the NPP won several city council seats, and Miao Poya, the first openly LGBT city councilor, was elected last night in my district. We do have allies. The old people don't get to define all of what it means to be Taiwanese. The Council of Grand Justices has already said their ruling stands. 

That shows we've already pushed the conversation a little bit in the right direction. The "gays are degenerate and have AIDS!" argument no longer works here. And no matter what, there will be some form of same-sex partnerships in May. This is not a 100% victory, but it's a step. Once that happens, and people realized that AIDS doesn't start falling from the sky, then we can actually get this party started. 

I'm here in my party dress and I have to believe it will start. 

In other words, that flag above and the people who fly it are *just* as Taiwanese as any old bigot at the polls. And we've got one thing that most of Asia doesn't: actual democracy. China says "'Chinese' [by their definition] people are not ready for democracy", but although we don't like the results, and some outcomes seem straight-up stupid, you have to admit: people were engaged and talking about the races and referendums. People turned out to vote. They didn't vote the way wed've liked, but Taiwan can still prove that 'Chinese' [again, China's definition, not mine] can and have built a democracy. We only have to hope that it stands, because there are some huge tests coming.

Well. We are all Taiwan souls. Some of us were born into it, some of us are not actually Taiwanese but this is our home. I don't get any say in what is or is not "Taiwanese", but our liberal Taiwanese friends do. We need to support them. Now. 

I am deeply disappointed in Taiwan today. I still love this country, but I don't like it very much right now. But this is my home and I may be crying and hungover, but I have to keep fighting for it.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Tricked Into Divorce (no, not me)

A friend sent me this the other day: it's a document translated in Chinese, Japanese, English and several Southeast Asian languages asking foreign spouses at the registration office filling out divorce paperwork if they agree to get a divorce.



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Apparently, the police require this for all foreign divorces in Taiwan now, as it is too common for a Taiwanese spouse (usually male) who wants to divorce (usually a Southeast Asian woman who can't read Chinese) to take her to the local housing registration office saying they have to "fill out some paperwork", perhaps saying it's about some unrelated thing, and then divorcing her without her knowledge.

While it's not so easy in Taiwan for someone to divorce their spouse if that spouse doesn't agree, these 'trick' divorces made it look like the wife agreed - after all, she signed the paperwork without complaint. If both spouses agree, the process of legal divorce takes less than half an hour (in terms of splitting assets, I have no idea).

Once the divorce is final, the foreign spouse - again, usually a woman who doesn't speak or read Chinese - has 48 hours to leave the country. No time to demand access to assets or other support. Possibly no time to even go to the bank, if she has a bank account in her own name, which she likely doesn't. No realistic way to take any children with her. She's out, she gets nothing, quite possibly returning to a life of miserable poverty, and he gets a clean break and to keep everything. It is extremely difficult if not impossible to fight for a fair division of assets once out of the country, and as far as I know there is no legal way to apply to stay on such short notice (though I'm not sure about that, and if there were, it's not clear that someone who can't read Chinese and might not even have her own transport would be able to access it.)

This is absolutely evil, that goes without saying. It is wrong. It cannot be tolerated.

The good news is that the Taiwanese government got its act together (that happens sometimes!) and put together this form, which is now standard with foreign divorces. Unless the spouse is illiterate - in which case I suppose an interpreter would be necessary and locating one on short notice would pose other problems - it clarifies for the soon-to-be-erstwhile foreign spouse what is happening. 

If in fact she is being tricked, she can then refuse to sign the divorce papers, which buys her time and therefore better access to legal services to fight for assets and custody. She's not left penniless on a plane back to her country of birth without so much as the chance to give family there (if she has any) advance notification to expect her.

This doesn't solve every problem with the rules surrounding foreign spouses: if you knowingly divorce or your spouse dies and you were unable to obtain an APRC (or just had not done so) - keeping in mind that the men who marry Southeast Asian women may not meet the required income threshold for her to get an APRC, if she even knows that's an option - you also have few options for staying in Taiwan, and that's not right.  However, it deals with a massive issue many of us had no idea existed. It materially improves an issue facing foreigners - especially foreign women - in Taiwan.


One thing that helps with this is that the document itself is very simple - one easy-to-understand question and very simple choices of answer (so if there is some ability to read but overall literacy level is not high, it should still be comprehensible), which shows sensitivity to the situation of these women. It might seem to us that any foreigner who comes to Taiwan would be literate in their own language, but when it comes to women brokered through the marriage industry (and it is very much an industry) here, that's not guaranteed to be true. 


I don't often say this, but good job, Taiwanese government. You did the right thing.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Fading Rainbows: my latest for Ketagalan Media

I am super tired with two crazy weeks of teacher training and no weekend break. So, here's a link without fanfare (because I don't have time to create it) to my latest for Ketagalan Media, all about the current state of marriage equality in Taiwan and where we need to go from here.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

First in Asia? I think so.

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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. 


Monday, March 27, 2017

Dear Chiu Tai-san: it doesn't matter if marriage equality is "Chinese", because Taiwan is not "Chinese"

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I just can't.

Even.

I wish I had more to say about the demonstrations in front of the Judicial Yuan on Friday, but truth be told, they were tiny. I tend to agree with Brian Hioe that the reason was likely not that it was a work day (a lot of people who show up are students, and previous government actions have caused far larger rallies during work hours). Most likely, it was due to a general feeling that pushing for marriage equality through the Judicial Yuan is either not likely a fruitful path, or that these oral arguments were not particularly significant.

It seems a few more people did show later in the day (I was only able to go in the morning) but while I was there, it was a slew of police officers there for security against what was maybe 20 people. I was sad to see so few, but honestly, during my stopover, there were no anti-equality demonstrators. So we still had them beat 20-to-0! (I'm told that a few did eventually show up, but I was long gone).

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Otherwise, I have little to say that hasn't already been said over the weekend, and I just don't know what to say about Justice Minister Chiu Tai-san's argument. Chiu - who is a Tsai appointee, remember - argued so strongly for inequality that it seemed to surprise even more conservative voices.

From Michael Turton:

Our DPP Justice Minister revealed himself to be not only a retrograde thinker, but a Han nationalist to boot. Speaking on gay marriage at a hearing that was live streamed, Justice Minister Chiu Tai-san said:


“The Civil Code stipulates that marriage shall be between a man and a woman, and as such it is not unconstitutional. The Constitution guarantees citizens’ right to marry as that between a man and a woman, while marriage between people of the same sex is not covered under the Constitution,” Chiu said.
“For thousands of years in the nation’s history, society has instituted traditions and codes of conduct regarding marriage. Has there ever been a cultural institution or social phenomenon for same-sex marriage?” Chiu said.

“Without a doubt, there has been none,” Chiu said.

He then quoted one section of the Chinese classic I Ching (易經), also known as the Book of Changes, which reads: “With the existence of the earth and the sky, there came all living things. With the existence of the earth and the sky, there came men and women,” which he said illustrates that Chinese marriage traditions have — since ancient times — been based on a union between a man and a woman.
This kind of argument is completely idiotic -- projecting modern institutions into the past in order to legitimate them.

It was unclear at first whether his views were meant to represent the Executive Yuan until Premier Lin Chuan explicitly remarked that they weren't.

In any case, what the fuck is wrong with you, Chiu Tai-san? Like, what the hell even? You know quite well that the person who appointed you disagrees with you, you know quite well (whether you want to admit it or not, you crusty old shitlord) that the general consensus of society is against you, and you must know by now that you are hurting, not helping, the administration that you currently depend on for your job. They need the youth vote, and if government officials keep mouth-pooping turds like this, they won't get it.

Queerious said it best:

It is unknown whether Chiu consulted the President or the Executive Yuan prior to the oral arguments, but there are only two possible scenarios here. In the first scenario, he discussed his testimony with the presidential office and the Executive Yuan and they gave him the go ahead. In the alternative, he did not speak to them, and neither the presidential office nor the Executive Yuan had the forethought to vet his arguments to ensure that they would not be an embarrassment to the government that still claims to support marriage equality. Both scenarios are unacceptable to marriage equality supporters and may be indicative of a dysfunctional government that fails to understand the real-life consequences of its ineptitude and passiveness.

(If you are wondering why my two long quotes are formatted differently, it's because I don't know how to fix that).

But what makes this word turd from Chiu especially stinky is that he's straight-up wrong. Marriage has not, through history, in basically any culture, been "one man and one woman". That's a relatively recent phenomenon, and honestly, something of a heavily Christian-tinged one. In China, the most well-known kind of ancient marriage was one man with many wives, but here you can see there is a whole list of other possible choices. (Michael is slightly incorrect, by the way - I didn't track down that website, my husband did as he joked that if Taiwan were going to go back to traditional notions of Chinese marriage, that I ought to ready the guest room for his second wife).

One that it doesn't mention - you can also marry a ghost (but apparently not your real-life human lover and partner of many years, if you happen to have the same genitals).

It almost feels like Chiu and his ilk are taking arguments that sound like Western-style "Christian" arguments against equality, and using them to somehow justify it "in Chinese culture". Gee, I wonder where they got that rhetorical tactic? It hints vaguely at Chinese nationalist "5000 years of culture" type nonsense but has a distinctly church-of-hateful-people tinge to it.

Of course, arguments about whether homosexual unions are compatible with Chinese culture are meaningless, especially in Taiwan, because Taiwan is not a part of China. Frankly, I was somewhat surprised to hear this line of argument from someone in the DPP, especially someone whose political past is associated with pushing the DPP to more strongly embrace Taiwan independence. Tai-san, buddy, do you really hate TEH GAYS so much that you'd adopt pro-China, Han nationalist rhetoric? Really? What the fuck man?

In any case, who gives a shit what is "traditional Chinese culture", at least when it comes to Taiwan? Not only does culture evolve, as it may in China, but arguing this is like arguing that we can't embrace progressive social ideals in the US because they are not a part of traditional, oh, I don't know, Celtic culture in ancient Britannia. Or something.

What Taiwan has been doing since the end of the authoritarian era is figuring out what Taiwanese culture is, and how it is distinct from Chinese. I am not Taiwanese and cannot speak for Taiwan, but I will say that my observations have led me to believe that Taiwanese culture embraces a level of tolerance not found in China, and a live-and-let-live attitude outside of one's own family (intra-family dynamics may be another story, but can vary quite a bit). People have labeled Taiwan as conservative: I don't think so. We wouldn't be here fighting for Taiwan to be the first nation in Asia to embrance marriage equality with a realistic chance of winning, if it were. People have labeled Taiwan as 'traditional' and the Taiwanese as 'obedient' or 'unwilling to speak up'. I don't buy this either. First, it's a blanket stereotype. Second, this is a nation prone to rebellion, settled first by seafaring indigenous people and then by people who were not always even considered Chinese, and in any case were often the travelers, rabblerousers and assorted rebellious types on the continent (would you decide to move to an offshore island and most likely work for the Dutch if you were an established, conservative scion of Minnan society?) Third, this is a nation of people who, despite being told at every turn that they belong to some other greater power and being denied international recognition even when they claim it for themselves, refuse to give up and will take to the streets for what they believe in. Who wake up every day with 1300+ missiles pointing right at them and yet keep working to build a better nation, quietly insisting that it is, in fact, a nation while the entire world pretends they can't hear.

To me, this is not a nation of supplicants, it's a nation of rebels, or at least people with a rebellious streak, and I love it.

In such a nation, marriage equality is not a crazy notion. It fits perfectly. It doesn't matter if it's "Chinese" or not, because Taiwan is not Chinese. And marriage equality is - or at least can be - Taiwanese. Same-sex couples have been together since human beings have existed, and in recent decades they've been far more open about it. This isn't about radical social change: the change is already here. This is about an extension of the continuing fight for human rights in Taiwan, and about what kind of country Taiwan wants to be.

Queerious is right - marriage equality is a two-front war, just not, perhaps, in the way they think it is.

It's a two-front war as we fight Christian anti-equality believers on one hand, and "ANCIENT CHINESE CULTURE!" chauvinists on the other. In some cases, despite Christianity also not being traditionally Chinese, they seem to have teamed up.

And Chiu Tai-san can eat a dick.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Come out for equality tomorrow (because this is what we're up against)

I haven't talked much about marriage equality since the Legislative Yuan went into recess - we ended 2016 with something of a sorta-kinda victory, with the bill to amend the civil code to allow same-sex unions the same protection as opposite-sex ones passing committee - and perhaps it felt like time to take a break.

However, while marriage equality advocates (myself included) have been fairly quiet in the past few months, anti-equality factions have been ramping up the hate, and it's time to call them out.

Why now? Well, tomorrow there will be oral arguments regarding the marriage equality bill (here - be there at 9am - I will be). There are several events planned and several groups trying to get people out. I once again encourage and ask anyone reading this to attend, as well. We must continue to keep beating them by numbers. We can't get lazy and we can't get soft.

Again, this shouldn't matter, but it does. There is social consensus in favor of equality, the legislature has the votes, Tsai has said she supports it, and the DPP has typically been friendlier to it than the KMT. This should be passing with ease, but we are up against an organized force - mostly, Christian churches despite the fact that only about 5% of the Taiwanese population is Christian - that have far more political power than they ought to given the percentage of the population they represent. They have their tentacles (yes, I'm using biased language - eat me) in both the DPP and the KMT, with only the New Power Party and their 5 seats being consistently in favor of justice (yes - justice. When it is a matter of equal rights that affect a group of people directly, especially if there is social consensus, this truly is a matter of justice).

So, please, come out again tomorrow. I know it's yet another rally, and yet another hurdle of bureaucracy, but we truly cannot let up. They are organized and consistent - we must be too.

Remember, this is what we're up against. This flier was found in Xizhi (by a friend of an acquaintance) and shows, simply by the rhetoric it uses, how much Western-style bigotry is driving the anti-equality side in Taiwan. It sounds very much like something I might have seen in the USA in the months leading up to marriage equality and might still see now, in slightly updated form.


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A back-of-the-hand translation - it talks about how marriage equality has "caused distress" in countries where it has been legalized, and gives three (ridiculous) examples:

In France it has apparently caused a 17-year old Vietnamese 'orphan' (adoptee?) to give a talk opposing marriage equality, because it has meant that same-sex couples can adopt children (it is simply assumed to be bad that this might be allowed, which is not the consensus of the scientific community). It hardly matters - in any free society somebody is going to oppose something, just because one kid gave a talk doesn't mean there are deep grievances in society.

In Canada people have "complained online and on the street" since marriage equality was introduced some years ago (again, this is meaningless: there is all sorts of crap online, much of it trolling and much more not worth one's time or not reflecting a general social opinion, and on the street...well, there are always going to be dicks spewing their nonsense.) It goes on to say that Canadian parents are distressed that they cannot prevent their children from learning about same-sex unions and homosexuality in school. There is no evidence that this is a major social issue, however. Again, there will always be people who feel this way. It doesn't mean that society is deeply aggrieved.

In the US it talks about how marriage equality has paved the way for transgender bathroom use (with no evidence provided that this is actually a bad thing, or a problem in any way), and has "led to the election of anti-marriage-equality Donald Trump" (I highly doubt that was the issue that led straight to Trump's election - even if it were, it does not mean marriage equality is a problem).

This science-and-fact-free piece of garbage is not significant on its own. Ignorance is spewed in many forms - it means little in the face of social consensus and there is no evidence that these shallow and illogical arguments are doing anything to sway Taiwanese society, which is more progressive than one might imagine on this issue.

What matters is that an organized group took the time to write, print and distribute it. They are still around, causing disturbances in fast food restaurants, preaching to their congregations, networking to bring crowds that do not represent Taiwanese society...and passing out this garbage by the fistful.

They are still around, and still spreading hate. Their arguments are facile and not only are not based in research, but actively go against it. Their ideas are outdated. They want to keep approximately 10% of the Taiwanese population from gaining access to rights that directly affect their lives, simply so they, the anti-equality protesters, can feel morally superior (and for no other benefit). They are simply wrong.

But they're organized, and they're still at it, while we've been resting.

It's time to stop resting. We can't let up.

I hope to see you tomorrow.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Ideological Bedfellows (Part 1): I Am A Palimpsest

You probably already know that I'm an atheist. Have been basically forever. I'm going to tell you why I'm an atheist because I like talking about myself, but also because I think it is a useful tangential point to the one I'd like to make.

At least, I hope it is. After writing this, I realized how much it rambles. I would not call it my best writing. But, I feel like sharing, so enjoy.

The reason I want to tell you now is that it's a riff on this very good article by a woman who left her job at the evangelical Morrison Academy in Kaohsiung over differences of belief in marriage equality and her right to post about same on social media. So, this does concern Taiwan, I promise you, if you stick with me.

When I was around six years old, I figured out that there was no Santa Claus. I'm not sure exactly when I told my parents this, because at around the same time, my logical deduction about the impossibility of everything about the Santa myth led me to the logical deduction that some old sky-livin' dude who miraculously knew and controlled everything (and yet we had free will? Though I didn't call it that at that age), whose only reward or punishment for the good or the bad was to go somewhere after we died, with no proof of that offered whatsoever, and the only salve for the truly unfortunate was a combination medication of a.) it's a part of some "plan" so it's "okay" (or something?) or b.) God loves you and controls everything but it's not his fault, and you get to go to Heaven after you die in whatever awful way, and the people who built a world in which you suffer will themselves suffer no earthly punishment, with no sign that post-mortem justice is even a real thing was, you know, possibly also deeply illogical and at odds with the world as I observed it.

I told my parents this very offhandedly: as a child, I didn't comprehend that perhaps they knew one impossibility was impossible, but actually believed in another. I was surprised when they reacted badly.

In short, I was born without whatever gene may lead to faith. I do not feel it is a great loss.

I never did change my mind, though my parents' reaction was so adverse that I pretended to for awhile. I went to church (I had to), I even taught Sunday School and sang in the choir, among other things. I was confirmed. I said nothing more about it, because discussion of it was, while not forbidden (my parents were always fairly liberal, in fact), not especially welcome either.

This does not mean that I made a decision as a child and have stubbornly refused to rethink or challenge it in the years since. Several times I've gone back and questioned that lack of faith, wondered if my early rejection of it was mere childishness. So far, none of my challenges has been successful. I remain an atheist. The world as I observe it is still logically inconsistent with pretty much every monotheistic religion and I'm not interested in pretzeling my thoughts into accepting both when it is vain to do with more what can be done with fewer. 

Why on earth am I telling you all this? Oddly enough, so that perhaps you can understand that, in fact, I am not anti-Christian or even anti-religion.

Right. I know. Back that truck up. What?

My parents' church is a liberal one. They were pro-marriage-equality before it was the law, and around the time of my mother's funeral, rainbow flags were planted outside the building. This was a solid six months before Obergefell v. Hodges. Although there are perhaps a few Frozen Chosen among the congregation, the bent of their scripture curves toward acceptance and love. You know, the teachings of Jesus.

From years of growing up in it, and as a closeted apostate teenager, teaching it, I can say that there is nothing about the teachings of Jesus that contradicts my own personal belief system. I may not believe in God, but I think of Jesus as a great philosopher. Just because he didn't have a sky dad doesn't mean his words aren't worth heeding. The pastor of that church married us; I respected him quite a bit as a person (he has since retired; I also have a great deal of respect for the new reverend). I actually love this part of Christianity - the part that matters: love thy neighbor, let he who is without sin cast the first stone, judge not, do unto others and more. Notably, he said not a word about being LGBT in any way. There was a benefit to growing up Christian: this aspect of the faith wormed its way into my humanist ethical code.

Furthermore, most of my family and many of my friends are Christian (or Jewish, or Muslim). To take a dim view of faith of any kind would mean taking a dim view of them, or judging them. I simply don't take that dim view - I've seen how faith has helped them through crises, eased their final months and days, informed their laudable belief systems and actions and been something generally valuable to them. It may not make sense to me, but it makes sense to them. I cringe a bit, in fact, when militant atheists pan all believers. That's my family, dude. They're not idiots or lemmings. Shut it. 

In short, my break with faith had nothing to do with social conservatism or other beliefs. I still believe, on a human level, what the church I grew up in taught. I have no problem attending their services, I even contribute to the donation plate with a clear conscience. The break was spiritual - or, if you like, supernatural - only. In earthly respects my ethical code does not differ much from them, and we along well.

If you are curious, I did later 'come out' (if you can call it that) as an atheist to my family. They seemed to have forgotten about the first time and weren't pleased, but they more or less accepted it. Their social beliefs and mine are still similar - I am somewhat more liberal, but none of them are particularly socially conservative and on those issues I'd put them mostly at left-of-center. Not only is there nothing in liberalism or progressivism at odds with Christianity as per my upbringing, but in fact the two are a natural fit.

And why did I tell you that?

Because I do not believe, given my upbringing, that Christianity is fundamentally at odds with social progressivism in general, and marriage equality in particular. This should be obvious, but there are many - as in, far more than you would think - Christians who believe the brand of Christianity I grew up with, the one I feel is in fact most like the teachings of the person for whom the religion is named, is "not real Christianity" and people like my parents are "not real Christians". For whatever reason, they have decided that when it comes to scripture, their interpretive authority is irrefutable and lesser Christians - like, say, my family and many of my friends - are just as damned as those terrifying horror-movie atheists. Why? No idea. Certainly that's not anything Jesus ever actually said.

An atheist

(from here)


There are also many atheists who don't see this: they lump together all Christians into a reviled group they see as reactionary haters. Either you're a brainwashed sheep or an enlightened freethinker. I'm not okay with that - it's Bible-thumper judgmentalism dressed up as scientific rationality, veiled with condescension.

However, I'm going to do what I just criticized more fundamentalist Christians for doing, but hopefully call out their No True Scotsman fallacy.

They may think that the liberal, kumbaya Christians I grew up with are "not real Christians", but you know what? I don't think they are real Christians. In fact, the existence of such vile judgmentalism and closemindedness, to me, is further proof that God does not exist. Those who would seek to take away others' rights, in some cases deeply affecting their lives, go unpunished while those whose rights are taken away suffer. No succor or recourse is offered except for some nebulous concept of judgment after death, or the idea that there is a "plan" that accounts for this. Neither is a satisfactory explanation. I've already been over why I don't accept this model of the universe, therefore, such people are proof, to me, that there is no God.

People like them have been able to successfully delay, and in some cases block, marriage equality. That is, acting in the name of a philosopher who preached love, tolerance and equality, they have denied an entire group of people basic human rights. In some countries, they have successfully criminalized homosexuality.

What God worth believing in would allow this? Who, exactly, is going to be punished after they die if there is an afterlife?

If they are going to open the door to some people who claim to be Christians not "really" being Christian, there is nothing to stop more liberal Christians from throwing it right back on them.

If you - generic you directed at this particular type of "Christian" - do not believe in marriage equality, honestly speaking, I do not think of you as a real Christian. You are merely a bigoted person looking for a preacher to affirm your own shitty dogma. I know real Christians, and unlike you, they are good people. You probably do not believe me, being a scary atheist and all, but believe this: the folks who actually follow Jesus' teachings about love and tolerance are laughing at you, and if there is a Hell it is full of people like you.

Basically, I see no reason why Christianity and marriage equality cannot be bedfellows. The argument I have heard many times in Taiwan is that opponents of equality feel that way "because of their religion". They're Christian - to be Christian (in their view) is to take what they call a "traditional" view of marriage. What that is supposed to mean exactly - or rather why it means what they say it means - I'm not sure.

I am curious which "traditional marriage" they are referring to, or rather, why they've decided only the first one counts, based on a book that allows all of the above.

From here

It does not, however, have to be that way. Churches that truly follow the teachings of Jesus could be some of the greatest allies in bringing equality to all. I'm aware of the historical reasons why Taiwanese churches tend to be more conservative on the whole than the American churches I know, but it simply does not have to be such an ideological divide.

In fact, if I have to pick a reason or point for why I'm writing all of this, it's to remind people that in the USA the equality/anti-equality divide is not one entirely based on religion. Most objections to human rights for all seem to be religious in nature, true, but like the church I grew up in, often in the US some of the strongest support, and often some of the most important groups spreading the word in a way persuasive to more conservative elements, are progressive churches. Taiwan doesn't need to get rid of Christianity (though frankly I don't think there was anything wrong with the local religions and see no reason to import a new one - it's not superior), though it could stand to dial back how much influence churches have in politics, which far outweighs their actual representation in society. What they need is more progressive Christianity to be on offer.

In fact, I've heard several Christian friends in Taiwan complain of just this: they want to worship, but they can't find a church that squares with their beliefs, and can't bring themselves to attend a church they view as antithetical to their values of love, equality and charity.

I have no idea how to do this: as an atheist I'm certainly not the one to be doing it, and progressive Christians tend not to become missionaries (though some are). The missionaries here, and the connections the established churches have to the US, are all deeply conservative and entrenched. It does feel like wishful thinking.

So, Christianity in Taiwan seems wedded to intolerance - they are currently ideological bedfellows. I feel like this relationship is not the most compatible one, though, and Christianity needs a new partner. I want to say that for those of us on the side of equality, then, perhaps rather than dismissing all anti-equality opponents it would be prudent to offer up that new ideological combination as a way to support equality while maintaining faith. I really do. However, as an unrepentant cynic, I'm not so sure it would work within an acceptable timeframe. Fighting post-truth belief is difficult, and the road is not yet well-trodden. We don't have years. This matters to people's lives.

This is, then, why I was heartened to read Brandt's message. When faced with dogma or love, she chose love. The ideological divide does not have to run along the religious divide in Taiwan.

That said, after the first few supportive comments (I know - never read the comments! But I did) I was then saddened to see the rationalizations that people who thought of themselves as good Christians gave for wanting to deny rights to others. I'm not going to get into an advanced ecumenical debate, so let's just say I find the "love the sinner, hate the sin" argument lacking for all the reasons you can imagine. If you hate something that is an intrinsic part of someone else, you cannot then wholeheartedly claim to love them, as much as you might like to. It's as stupid as saying "I love my black friends, but hate their blackness". "I love my Vietnamese friends but hate the sin of being born Vietnamese". "I love my daughter, I just hate that that she's female." It's no better. What you are doing is dressing up bigotry with fake 'love' in order to make yourself feel better, because it sounds a little more like what Jesus might have said (which is what makes people like Katy Faust so dangerous - it sounds plausible to someone trying to reconcile religion with caring for a human being who does not epitomize that religion's moral code, but is in fact not plausible) - without considering that sin is a choice but homosexuality is not. That people are going to be gay whether you want them to or not, whether you think your sky friend likes it or not, whether you give them rights or not. It is not a sin any more than my having a vagina is a sin (though the Internet sure seems to think it is), because it is not a choice. 


This is what we need to fight, but I am not sure at all that it is possible.