More than 4 billion people live in Asia. But not one of them lives in a country where people can get married regardless of their sexual orientation. LGBT rights supporters have long looked to liberal Taiwan to change that, and numerous recent developments signal that the country may step up.
On Saturday, more than 80,000 people took to the streets of Taiwan's capital, Taipei, as part of the city's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender pride parade, according to numbers provided by organizers. Attendees described the event as charged with an unprecedented atmosphere of hope.
In October, lawmakers from Taiwan's new ruling party, the Democratic Progressive Party, introduced a bill that would eliminate gender from the national constitution's definition of marriage, opening it to any two people. Taiwan's new president, Tsai Ing-wen, has vocally supported marriage equality in the past, and recent polls show that almost three-quarters of the Taiwanese people favor marriage equality.
The turning point, however, may have come by way of tragedy. On Oct. 16, a French professor who had lived in Taiwan for decades fell 10 stories to his death in what his friends said was probably a suicide. They said Jacques Picoux, who was 67, had fallen into a deep depression after cancer took the life of his partner of many years. Because of Taiwan's current laws, Picoux was not able to take part in crucial medical decisions during his partner's final moments and afterward could not legally claim the property the two had shared.
Picoux's death seems to have spurred DPP lawmakers to prioritize the new bill on marriage equality. According to political observers, the bill is expected to pass.
“We actually can see that there are about 66 legislators who will probably vote yes on marriage equality,” Pride Watch activist Cindy Su told London's the Guardian. “That’s a majority of 58.4 percent, the first time in Taiwanese history that we have more than half.”
The DPP came to power after decades ruled by the Kuomintang, which had opposed marriage-equality legislation. The DPP platform is driven by a desire for Taiwan to become more autonomous from China, which claims the island as its own. But the party also represents a younger, more liberal Taiwanese voter. Of marriage equality, party leader and now-president Tsai said, “Every person should be able to look for love freely and freely seek their own happiness.”
If Taiwan legalizes same-sex marriage, it will send a strong message across the region. Homosexuality is taboo in many East Asian countries, and it remains illegal in Malaysia, as well as across much of South Asia.
Yu Mei-nu, who drafted the legislation for the DPP, said the bill could become law by early next year. On the day after the publication of Yu's draft, Picoux's and his partner's ashes were scattered into the sea.