Despite ‘Bitter Blow’ for LGBTQ Rights, Activists Prepare For Next Step
“This result is a bitter blow and a step backwards for human rights in Taiwan,” Annie Huang, Amnesty International Taiwan.
Voters in Taiwan rejected the same-sex marriage referendum that drew support from six LGBTQ organizations and over 27 corporations. While the ballot measure is only advisory in practice, it becomes a frustrating speed bump for activists and legislators who wanted to move forward with marriage equality. The Guardian reports:
“Ruling party lawmakers backed by president Tsai Ing-wen had proposed legalising [sic] same-sex marriage in late 2016, but put aside their ideas to await the court hearing. Opposition to same-sex marriage crested after the court ruling. Opponents have held rallies and mobilised [sic] votes online.
“Courts will still consider local marriage-licensing offices in violation of the law if they refuse same-sex couples until May 2019, a Ministry of Justice spokesperson said last week.”
“The referendum is a general survey, it doesn’t have very strong legal implications. “One way or another it has to go back to the court,” Shiau Hong-chi, a professor of gender studies and communications management at Shih-Hsin University in Taiwan told the outlet.
Taiwan’s Referendum Act dictates that the result of any referendum is only valid if it is approved by 25 percent of eligible voters. Individual voters also have the option to not vote on individual referendum questions, playing a vital role in their success or failure.
Annie Huang, Amnesty International Taiwan’s Acting Director issued a statement on the vote:
“This result is a bitter blow and a step backwards for human rights in Taiwan. However, despite this setback, we remain confident that love and equality will ultimately prevail. The result must not be used as an excuse to further undermine the rights of LGBTI people. The Taiwanese government needs to step up and take all necessary measures to deliver equality and dignity for all, regardless of who people love.”
The Taiwanese government has pledged to make changes to current marriage laws despite the referendum. In May 2017, Taiwan’s top judges ruled laws preventing members of the same sex from marrying violated their right to equal treatment under the constitution.
After losing referendum votes and local elections Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen announced she was stepping down as leader of the Taiwan Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the current ruling party. She gave the following statements to reporters after the election:
“As chairperson of the ruling party, I will take complete responsibility for the outcome of today’s local elections…I resign as DPP chairperson. Our efforts weren’t enough and we let down all our supporters who fought with us. I want to express our most sincere apologies…Continuing reforms, freedom and democracy, and protecting the country’s sovereignty are the mission that the DPP would not abandon.”
Pro-equality activists and supporters have been critical over President Tsai and the DPP’s handling of marriage equality after she campaigned for President with gay rights being an integral part of her platform.
“Our court ruled parliament has to amend the civil code or introduce a new law to legalise [sic] gay marriage by 24 May 2019,” Victoria Hsu, the lead lawyer of the 2017 marriage equality case told the Guardian. “Because our government did not respond quickly the Christian churches in Taiwan have proposed three referendum questions that were approved by the central electoral commission,” she continued.
Hsu who is the co-founder of the Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnerships would further explain the situation in comments to the Guardian:
“They fully understand they can’t postpone this issue forever, but have been hesitant as part of a political calculation. They have allowed the referendum to go first to serve as some kind of public opinion survey. The only difference would be to amend the civil code or introduce a separate law called the same-sex marriage act. However, anti-gay groups have led their supporters to believe they can stop gay marriage, which is ridiculous. They have spent a lot on spreading fear, misinformation and homophobic rhetoric. If they are successful in getting more votes, they will try to push our government to pass a lightweight act compared with the civil code.”