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On October 26, Taiwan hosted its 17th annual pride festival, the first since the legalization of same-sex marriage in May. Nearly 200 000 people marched through the streets of Taipei in celebration of this year’s historic win for the LGBT community.
On May 17, Taiwan approved a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, making it the first country in Asia to legally recognize same-sex marriage. The law officially came into effect on May 24.
How Taiwan came to recognize same-sex marriage
Taiwan is home to a large LGBT community and has hosted the biggest pride parade in Asia for 17 years. Despite this, the decision was still a controversial move.
In 2015, LGBT rights activist Chi Chia-wei filed a request to the Constitutional Court, asking to revise the definition of marriage in Taiwan’s civil code. A similar request was filed by Taipei city government in the same year after three same-sex couples filed an administrative lawsuit against the government when their marriage registrations were rejected.
In 2017, Taiwan’s Constitutional Court ruled that the article in Taiwan’s civil code which said that marriage was between a man and a woman was unconstitutional. The Court gave the Taiwanese parliament a two-year deadline to amend or enact new laws regarding same-sex marriage.
In November 2018, conservative and religious groups pushed the government to hold a referendum on whether the civil code should restrict marriage to between a man and a woman. Of the 55% of eligible voters who participated in the referendum, 67% voted against marriage equality.
In May, conservative politicians put forward rival bills that introduced limited same-sex unions, but they failed in parliament. A week after the deadline passed, the bill recognizing same-sex marriage was approved.
Although this new law was considered a win for LGBT rights in Taiwan, it still contained restrictions not faced by heterosexual couples. For example, same-sex couples can only adopt their partner’s biological children, and people can only marry foreigners from countries where gay marriage is also legal.
A political move to set itself apart from mainland China
Taiwan’s vote puts it among only 30 countries and territories in the world that allow gay marriage, according to the Pew Research Center.
In mainland China, homosexuality was removed from the country’s official list of mental disorders in 2001. While homosexuality isn’t illegal here, same-sex marriage is not recognized, and there are still accounts of censorship, prejudice, and discrimination against the LGBT community.
In 2016, China banned the portrayal of “abnormal sexual behavior" in TV and online shows, including LGBT relationships.
In November 2018, a homoerotic fiction writer received a 10-year prison sentence for writing what the police in East China’s Anhui Province calls “obscene sexual behavior between males" set to themes of “violence, abuse, and humiliation."
Earlier this year in March, all scenes that portrayed or mentioned Freddie Mercury’s homosexuality were removed from the Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody” in its Chinese release. Actor Rami Malek, who won an Academy Award for his lead role, was also censored for saying “a gay man, an immigrant, who lived his life just unapologetically himself,” in his Oscars acceptance speech. The Chinese streaming platform Mango TV replaced “gay man” with “special group” in its subtitles.
Following Taiwan’s historic decision in May, Chinese state-run newspaper People’s Daily tweeted: “Local lawmakers in #Taiwan, China, have legalized same-sex marriage in a first for Asia, according to local media reports.”
Chinese state-run tabloid Global Times joined in with a video showcasing gay social life in Beijing, featuring drag performances and praises from local advocates and foreigners.
In response, the Taiwanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs tweeted a rebuttal: “WRONG! The bill was passed by our national parliament & will be signed by the president soon. Democratic #Taiwan is a country in itself & has nothing to do with authoritarian #China. @PDChina is a commie brainwasher & it sucks.”
Taiwan is a self-governing island that has maintained an “uneasy truce” with mainland China for seven decades after their split at the end of a civil war in 1949, according to CNN.
Mainland China won’t follow Taiwan in allowing same-sex marriage. An Fengshan, spokesman for China’s policy-making Taiwan Affairs Office, said they had “noted reports on the island” about the new legislation. “The mainland has a marriage system of one man, one woman,” he added, without further elaboration.