TAIPEI: Taiwan’s ruling party unveiled its latest attempt to create Asia’s first gay marriage law on Thursday, a bill offering same-sex couples “permanent unions” as well as limited adoption rights, despite stiff opposition from conservatives.
The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has had a stuttering and troubled journey towards delivering on their 2016 election promise to grant same-sex couples equal marriage rights.
In November, conservatives won a referendum against revising the island’s Civil Code to allow gay marriage, in a blow to President Tsai Ing-wen’s party and a stark illustration of the social divide caused by the issue.
The referendum came after Taiwan’s Constitutional Court voted to legalise gay marriage in 2017 — the first place in Asia to do so — arguing that denying same-sex couples marriage rights was unconstitutional.
The court ordered the government to amend the law by May 24, 2019 but did not specify how it wanted gay marriage to be brought in.
The bill published Thursday by the cabinet is the Tsai administration’s attempt to square that circle — a new law that meets the court’s demands while trying to respect the referendum result by not altering the Civil Code which currently defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
The draft law released by the justice ministry proposes allowing “two persons of the same sex to create a permanent union of intimate and exclusive nature for the committed purpose of managing a life together to realise the equal protection of the freedom of marriage”.
Gay couples will be allowed to adopt the biological children of their partner while both parties are financially responsible for each other and are entitled to inheritance rights.
Premier Su Tseng-chang called the unveiling of the bill a “historical moment” and urged the parliament to pass it as soon as possible.
“We are all of the same country, live on the same land and under the same heaven and earth whether you are straight or gay,” he told a cabinet meeting.
“Every single person should be respected and treated equally. I sincerely hope that everyone will accept differences and treat each other cordially so Taiwan can become a country of mutual respect and friendliness”.
The law is set to take effect on May 24 but needs to pass parliament, where the DPP holds a majority.
Rights groups noted some shortcomings, such as limited adoption rights and no mention of recognising international gay marriage rights.
“The international community at the moment is closely watching the progress of Taiwan’s gay marriage bill. We hope to let the world see that Taiwan is a diverse society that respects equality to become a beacon and model of human rights in Asia,” the Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan said in a statement.
But conservative groups hit out at the bill — which avoids using the word “marriage” in its title.
“It is an irresponsible act to please both sides with a hidden agenda and trampling on public will,” said Yu Hsin-yi, spokesman of “pro-family” group the Coalition for the Happiness of our Next Generation.
Taiwan is seen as one of the most progressive societies in Asia when it comes to gay rights, and it stages the biggest gay pride parade in Asia annually.
Gay marriage rights receive high approval ratings among young people in particular.
But it also remains a staunchly conservative place with powerful religious lobbies, especially outside of urban areas, and analysts say DPP underestimated how controversial their gay marriage proposals would be.
President Tsai openly supported the legalisation of gay marriage before she was elected but has since said there needs to be more consensus in society.
If the bill is passed it would be Asia’s first gay marriage law. In December Thailand’s junta rulers proposed a similar bill but it has yet to make it to parliament in the kingdom that is currently in the midst of an election campaign.