Jennifer Lu has worked in the LGBTQ+ movement in Taiwan for 15 years. She is chief coordinator of Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan.
On May 17 — which was, prophetically, International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia — a large crowd arrived outside Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan at 8:30 a.m. and stood there until the late afternoon. Together, we withstood the torrential rain until we were met with bright sunshine — an apt metaphor for the long process of campaigning for marriage equality in Taiwan.
The fight for marriage equality in Taiwan did not come easy. It consisted of hopes and setbacks spanning many years, finally culminating in this moment.
Taiwan’s LGBTQ+ movement was formed, alongside the feminist movement, after the abolition of martial law in 1987. It gained prominence in 2000, when a 15-year-old student in southern Taiwan died in school after reportedly being bullied for his gender nonconformity. The incident led to passage of the Gender Equity Education Act, which has given younger generations in Taiwan the opportunity to learn about gender equality and the LGBTQ+ community. Partly as a result, an estimated 80 percent of Taiwan’s young people now support marriage equality, according to local advocacy groups.
In 2013, the first marriage equality bill was introduced in the legislature. But after harsh pushback from its opponents, its progress stalled. It was only in October 2016 that it captured public attention, after the death of Jacques Picoux, a French lecturer and LGBTQ+ activist who taught at National Taiwan University. His partner of nearly 40 years had died the year before and, according to friends, he had been devastated that he wasn’t able to make medical decisions on his partner’s behalf during his final moments because they were not legally married.
As the issue picked up momentum, the Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan and Yu Mei-nu, a legislator from the Democratic Progressive Party, proposed an amendment to the civil code to legalize same-sex marriage. We organized large-scale demonstrations and managed to get an amendment to the civil code in front of a legislative committee. In 2017, the constitutional court ruled that it was unconstitutional that the civil code had failed to recognize the right of same-sex marriage. It gave the legislature two years to pass a law recognizing same-sex-marriage, and gave us hope that we would finally see change.
But in 2018, we witnessed the heartbreaking results of a referendum on the question, in which a majority of Taiwanese people voted against same-sex marriage. Before the vote, Taiwanese society had been torn apart by anti-LGBTQ+ rumors, biases and discrimination. Members of the LGBTQ+ community were disappointed — but we kept on fighting.
Last week, we finally saw our years of tireless work come to fruition.
In the end, this hard-fought victory marks a new page in Taiwanese history — at least for the moment. Thanks to the courage of members of the LGBTQ+ community who stepped up, came out, shared their stories with families and friends, and helped the public to learn about the difficulties faced by the community, our right to marriage has finally been recognized.
The legislation has implications beyond Taiwan. A common argument in many Asian countries is that same-sex relations do not belong in traditional Asian cultures. Some even claim they stem from cultural colonization and propaganda from Western countries. The same-sex marriage statute passed in Taiwan sends an important message to the world: that the LGBTQ+ community is not intruding into Asian cultures, and LGBTQ+ rights can coexist peacefully with traditional Asian values.
The statute is not the end of our movement and push for LGBTQ+ rights in Taiwan. We have made many compromises to ensure the bill was passed. Although the Legislative Yuan managed to uphold our right to marriage, the bill did not include rights to adoption and surrogacy. And despite the enactment of this law, LGBTQ+ individuals may still face discrimination and biases in their workplace and daily life. Many Taiwanese — particularly young people — are still reluctant to come out.
So today, we are celebrating the realization of marriage equality in Taiwan. But soon, we will get back to work and fight for equal rights so that one day, Taiwan’s LGBTQ+ community can come out of the closet without fear and look forward a bright and confident future.