What Taiwan’s loss in the referendum for same-sex marriage means to us

We still have a long way to go. Over the weekend, Taiwan went under a historic act. Now, if you don’t know, the country is hailed by many as the most LGBT-friendly country in Asia. It is known for hosting the biggest pride parade in the continent. They were actually expected to be the first in Asia to effectively legalize same-sex marriage. This is because, in May 2017, Taiwan’s top court ruled that its civil code, which stated that only a man and a woman could marry, violated constitutional guarantees, thus giving its parliament two years to amend or pass new legislation. Sadly, within that time span, the government has made little progress in the face of opposition from conservative groups.

Furthermore, a referendum has been called for marriage to only be recognized as between a man and a woman in Taiwan’s Civil Code. Over the weekend, the referendum has concluded. And the results are disappointing. “It won more than seven million votes, while another calling for same-sex unions to be regulated under a separate law gained over six million,” GMA News reports.

A spokesman for Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office said the results reflected “the strong will of the public in Taiwan in sharing the benefits of… peaceful development across the Taiwan Strait.” Moreover, “pro-family” group the Coalition for the Happiness of our Next Generation said the win was a “victory of all people who treasure family values.”

Sadly, gay rights activists only garnered three million votes, and stressed that this was “a major blow to the island’s reputation as a rights trailblazer.” It even left some supporters in tears. Jennifer Lu, a spokeswoman for Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan, said they were saddened by what she described as the “absurd referendums” and blamed government “incompetence” for allowing the anti-gay marriage votes to go ahead.

This resulted to Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen resigning as leader of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). According to GMA News, “Tsai and DPP have faced a mounting backlash over domestic reforms as well as concerns about deteriorating ties with China, which still sees self-ruling Taiwan as part of its territory to be reunified. Tsai told reporters that she would take “complete responsibility” for the defeat as she resigned as chair of the party.”

The Washington Post notes that to many activists, a large part of the problem lies with the government of President Tsai Ing-wen and her party. “With her party’s popularity falling because of a stagnant economy and political pressure from China, the president has been hesitant to push the potentially divisive issue of same-sex marriage.” So while Tsai once spoke in favor of marriage equality, she has since taken a neutral stance ahead of the vote, “hoping to appease both the young voters who largely support gay marriage and the older voters who largely oppose it.”

This is a story that’s familiar to us. If you remember, Pres. Rodrigo Duterte said something similar. He initially expressed support for same-sex marriage, claiming that “If it makes the gays happy, let them be. I do not condemn anybody there.” Later, he then backtracks on his statement and speaking to the Filipino community in Burma about a Time magazine article on the expansion of gender identities. “That’s not allowed with us because we are Catholics,” Duterte said. “We have a Civil Code, which says you can only marry a woman for me, for a woman to marry a man.”

Furthermore, while we await the passage of the SOGIE Bill, sadly, I don’t think this is at all a priority for the president.

But even sadder is the fact that a majority of Filipinos seem opposed to the bill anyway, as reflected on comments on the GMA News’ article about the anti-gay groups winning in Taiwan. Many showed their support and even praised Taiwan for making the “right move.”

This shows just how outdated views of Filipinos really are when it comes to holding empathy for the LGBTQ community. If Taiwan lost the election, I’m afraid it means we may lose our fight too. I really hope not.


Photo courtesy of Unsplash

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Bea del Rio: