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Taiwan becomes first country in Asia to legalise same-sex marriage

Taiwan became the first place in Asia to legalise same-sex marriage on Friday, as thousands of demonstrators outside Parliament cheered and waved rainbow flags, despite deep divisions over marriage equality.

Lawmakers comfortably passed a bill allowing same-sex couples to form “exclusive permanent unions” and another clause that would let them apply for a “marriage registration” with government agencies.

Despite heavy rain, some demonstrators outside Parliament in the capital Taipei embraced tearfully, while others hailed the vote with chants of “Asia’s first” and “Way to go, Taiwan”.

The bill, which offers same-sex couples similar legal protections for marriage as heterosexuals, will take effect after Ms Tsai signs it into law.

“Today, we have a chance to make history and show the world that progressive values can take root in an East Asian society,” Tsai wrote on Twitter before the vote.

“Today, we can show the world that #LoveWins,” added Mr Tsai, who campaigned on a promise of marriage equality in the 2016 presidential election.

Gay rights groups had previously indicated they were willing to accept compromises, as long as the new law recognised the concept of marriage, adding they could fight legal battles over surrogacy and adoption down the line.

“In Taiwan a marriage will take effect when it’s registered, so allowing marriage registration is no doubt recognising the marriage itself,” Victoria Hsu, a gay rights lawyer, told AFP.

In the last decade, Taiwan has been one of the most progressive societies in Asia when it comes to gay rights, staging the continent’s biggest annual gay pride parade.

But the island remains a staunchly conservative place, especially outside urban areas.

Conservative and religious groups were buoyed by a series of referendum wins in November, in which voters comprehensively rejected defining marriage as anything other than a union between a man and a woman, illustrating the limited popular support.

In a Facebook post President Tsai Ing-wen said she recognised the issue had divided “families, generations and even inside religious groups”.

“Today, we have a chance to make history and show the world that progressive values can take root in an East Asian society,” she added in a tweet ahead of the vote.

Tsai had previously spoken in favour of gay marriage but was later accused of dragging her feet after the court judgement, fearful of a voter backlash.

Taiwan goes to the polls in January.

Thousands of gay rights supporters gathered outside parliament for the vote, despite heavy downpours.

“We are just a group of people who want to live well on this land and who love each other,” gay activist Cindy Su told the crowd.

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