On Saturday a throng of 1,200 convened in Taipei to hold a mock wedding banquet in a gesture meant to promote the same-sex marriage bill due to be put to a parliamentary vote soon. The supporters of the bill held a banquet, sitting at tables decorated with cloths bearing the Chinese character for “wedding” as a video featuring local celebrities streamed on a large screen. Live performances were also staged at the improvised hall outside Taiwan’s Presidential Office Building.
Put on by the Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights (TAPCPR), the gala precedes the next session of parliament, set for mid-September, during which members of parliament will review a bill that would legalize same-sex marriages and unions on the island. “We organized the event in the form of a wedding banquet in the hope that everyone regardless of his or her sexual orientation can have equal rights to get married and have families,” says TAPCPR spokesperson Severia Lu.
While hosting the banquet in itself does not assure that the bill will pass, those who vouch for the potential impact of the banquet harp on the dictum that perception is very often reality – or at least has the power to influence what becomes accepted as the norm. “This looks like a traditional wedding scene and even if it's not real, I think a picture is worth a thousand words and I hope we will get more public attention and support for same-sex marriages,” adds 22-year-old student Richard Chen of Taipei.
While the movement to legalize gay marriage gains traction around the world – the most recent victory being had by New Zealand’s LGBT community last month – no country within Asia has yet taken the leap. Thailand has been touted as potentially being the first, alongside Vietnam. Yesterday there was also news that gay South Korean film director Kim Jho Gwang-soo was “symbolically married” to his long-term partner on the same day that the 1,200-strong banquet took place in Taipei. Taiwan’s LGBT community has been in the fight for over a decade now. Last year, the size of the movement was made evident when more than 50,000 gay-marriage supporters took to the streets of Taipei to celebrate the nation’s 10th annual Gay Pride event.
A decade since attempts to get legislation on the books in 2003 ground to a halt, the effort began to gain steam again when a poll last month suggested that more than half of the island nation’s population would be in support of such a bill, with 37 percent opposed to it. This reveals dramatic progress in the past ten years, as 2003 results showed that only 25 percent were in favor of same-sex marriage, with 55 percent against.
As is the case in other Asian nations, there is a clear generational divide on the issue. “Based on the result of this survey, the government should stop acting conservative and mistaking the opinions against same-sex marriage as representing most people,” TAPCPR Secretary-General Chien Chih-chieh says.
Lee adds, “This 25 percent of people who have changed their attitudes (from opposition to support) are mostly people who are younger, have higher levels of education or have no religious beliefs.” Some 78 percent of Taiwanese aged 20 to 29 support the bill, with more than 70 percent who have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher saying they think gay couples should be allowed to tie the knot. Of nonreligious respondents, 55 percent backed the bill, while only 25 percent of those who identified as Christians are in favor.
According to Allen Li, a research fellow at Academia Sinica’s Institute of Sociology, this shift has mirrored the global trend of embracing same-sex marriage worldwide, with more than a dozen countries adopting landmark legislation that allows same-sex couples to wed. “The attitude change is related to international trends regarding same-sex marriages,” says Lee Jui-chung, assistant researcher at Academic Sinica’s Institute of Technology.
“We are optimistic about the bill as public support in Taiwan is growing while there is also a global trend to recognise same-sex marriages after France, Britain and New Zealand enacted such laws,” adds Lu of TAPCPR.
Although progress in Taiwan was set back this January when partners Chen Ching-hsueh and Kao Chih-wei dropped their appeal against a government agency for rejecting their marriage registration in 2011, the banquet this past weekend suggests that the pendulum has swung. Further bolstering this impression was the “benchmark” decision last month by authorities not to revoke the marriage status of a local transgender couple, Abbygail Wu and her partner Jiyi Wu. Last month two brides Huang Mei-yu and partner You Ya-ting were also married in a Buddhist ceremony, complete with prayer beads and chanting.
Is all of this just hype? Or could this year be the one?
“I think there is still a difficult road ahead of us because there is not enough public consensus on the issue of same-sex marriages,” says participant Ruby Tsai. “I think we have to wait for one or two years for the bill to be passed.”