Taiwan’s highest court took a step Wednesday toward making the island nation the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage. The court ruled that current laws preventing people of the same gender from marrying are unconstitutional.
The case was brought by gay activist Chi Chia-wei after his attempt to register for marriage to his partner was rejected in 2013. Authorities in the capital Taipei also joined in the case to petition the court for clarity after receiving numerous gay-marriage requests.
In a press release, the court stated “such different treatment is incompatible with the spirit and meaning of the right to equality” protected by Taiwan’s constitution. The landmark decision gave Parliament two years to amend existing laws or pass new ones to allow same-sex marriage. Current marriage laws are “in violation of both the people’s freedom of marriage … and the people’s right to equality,” decided Taiwan’s constitutional court, known as the Judicial Yuan.
The court’s ruling Wednesday ignited celebration among activists who have been fighting for the right to same-sex marriage for years.
Taipei is one of the most progressive cities for LGBTQ rights, hosting the largest pride parade in the region each year. Taiwan’s first woman president, Tsai Ing-wen, who took office last year, expressed her support of same-sex marriage while campaigning, saying “In the face of love, everyone is equal.”
A draft bill to legalize same-sex marriage has already been introduced in Parliament, but opposition from conservatives has slowed the process significantly. It’s not clear whether Taiwan’s parliament will legalize same-sex marriage altogether or introduce new legislation for a separate civil union. If the two-year deadline is not met, same-sex couples could register to marry based on the court’s new ruling.
The decision comes at a time of increased persecution of Asia’s LGBTQ community, as in an area of Indonesia where gay men were caned in front of a crowd on Tuesday. Also recently in Indonesia, 141 men were arrested for partaking in a gay sex party. In Singapore “any act of gross indecency with another male person” is still punishable with two years of prison.
The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex association reports 13 Asian nations, in which they include the Middle East, criminalize homosexual relationships.
“Communities continue to live under the shadow of oppressive criminal laws, even if they may not face actual prosecution by the State. A resurgence of right-wing conservatism and religious extremism has also led to an increase in incidence of violence against LGBT persons in several Asian countries,” ILGA concluded in its 2017 State-Sponsored Homophobia report.