Crowds waving rainbow flags broke into cheers – and tears of joy – as news spread that Taiwan’s lawmakers had passed a bill today allowing same-sex couples to marry.
Starting May 24, same-sex couples will be able to tie the knot with almost the same rights as different-sex couples. This is a first in Asia and a significant milestone on the road to equality in the region.
An early morning tweet from Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, presaged the positive outcome of two long years of campaigning by marriage equality activists.
Good morning #Taiwan. Today, we have a chance to make history & show the world that progressive values can take root in an East Asian society.
— 蔡英文 Tsai Ing-wen (@iingwen) May 17, 2019
The events in Taiwan over the past two years followed a path familiar to LGBT activists the world over – as same-sex couples struggled for rights in the face of social prejudice. In 2017, the Constitutional Court found Taiwan’s existing marriage act violated the Constitution on discrimination grounds by excluding same-sex couples.
The court gave Parliament two years to rectify this, but public opposition led to a referendum in 2018 to gauge public opinion on same-sex marriage. Too often around the world, LGBT people’s fundamental rights are debated in the court of public opinion, throwing the right to non-discrimination into question. The results of the referendum were clear – the majority rejected marriage equality.
In a last-ditch attempt to prevent marriage equality, two alternative bills were introduced in parliament that offered a separate, and unequal, form of partnership recognition that fell far short of marriage. But Taiwan’s lawmakers rejected these initiatives and voted in favor of the bill first proposed by the cabinet that provides a path to marriage for same-sex couples.
A cornerstone of democracy is the protection of minority rights from the whim of the majority. LGBT people require protection from discrimination, precisely because of social attitudes that lead to systemic discrimination.
Taiwan’s lawmakers voted to uphold minority rights in the face of discrimination, and in doing so set a positive example for the region. Today is indeed a day for celebration.