When Taiwanese lawmakers voted in favor of recognizing same-sex marriages on Friday, it was the culmination of years of campaigning for equality on the island.
The decision came a week before a deadline imposed by Taiwan’s high court, which in 2017 gave lawmakers two years to pass a law legalizing same-sex marriage, when it ruled that defining marriage as only a union between a man and woman was unconstitutional.
Friday’s vote made Taiwan the first Asian nation to legalize same-sex marriage, and advocates for LGBT rights hope the move will pave the way for other countries in the region to make similar legal changes.
Celebrations burst out on the streets of Taipei following the decision on Friday, even if some saw aspects of the law as a disappointment. Under the new legislation, adoption will still be restricted for same-sex couples, banning them from adopting children who are not blood relatives.
“It is not the perfect scenario that many LGBT groups were expecting,” said Suki Chung, Asia campaign manager at Amnesty International. “But it is the best scenario based on the political context and debate in Taiwan.”
Last year, a referendum in Taiwan rejected legalizing same-sex marriage. But legislators moved forward as the court’s May 24 deadline loomed. Ultimately, they favored using the term “marriage,” even as some floated language that would have used the term “union” or “familial relationship” instead.
Kyle Knight, an LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, told The Washington Post that it’s “absolutely a pathway to full equality.”
Despite its imperfections in the eyes of activists, many hope the law will inch the rest of Asia toward also legalizing same-sex marriage. Some countries may already be on their way. In Thailand, draft legislation would allow same-sex couples to be civil partners. And human rights advocates said on Friday that they hope Japan will move toward further protections for the LGBT community ahead of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
Last year, Tokyo’s municipal government voted to ban discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation. In February, more than a dozen same-sex couples sued the Japanese government for failing to recognize same-sex marriage.
Chung and Knight said they hope Taiwan’s vote will spark “ripple effects” across Asia, even as some countries in the region have cracked down on the LGBT community in recent years.
Earlier this year, Brunei, for example, said it would start enforcing a law that made gay sex and adultery punishable with death by stoning, prompting sharp criticism from the international community. The sultan of Brunei defended the law, saying it would be rarely enforced.
The vote in Taiwan helps “signal it’s not an East-West thing or global North global South thing,” Knight said. Officials in Brunei will have a hard time defending such harsh anti-homosexuality legislation, he said, “when the map of the Asian region is moving clearly in the opposite direction."
Ahead of Friday’s vote, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen tweeted that Taiwan had “a chance to make history & show the world that progressive values can take root in an East Asian society.”
“Today, we can show the world that #LoveWins,” she wrote.
“We haven’t seen a lot of politicians in Asia show the moral leadership to take this type of a stance,” Knight said. “This is where the Taiwanese example is so powerful.”