Taiwan becomes first country in Asia to legalise gay marriage

A top Taiwan court ruled in favour of gay marriage on Wednesday, a landmark ruling that paves the way for the island to become the first place in Asia to legalise same sex unions.

The court said Taiwan's current Civil Code, which says an agreement to marry could only be made between a man and a woman, "violated" the constitution's guarantees of freedom of marriage and people's equality.

It gave Taiwan's government two years to implement the ruling. A panel of 14 grand justices made the ruling in a case that centres on whether Taiwan's current law is unconstitutional.

Taiwan's pioneering gay rights campaigner, Chi Chia-wei, is one of the petitioners who brought the case to the constitutional court. After 30 years of activism, Chi, 59, had said earlier that he was "100 percent confident" the ruling will go in his favour.

 Taiwan becomes first country in Asia to legalise gay marriage

Representational image. Reuters

However, he had urged the judges to allow gay couples to register to marry the next day if they approve a change in the law, rather than giving the government a longer time-frame to implement the decision.

Most activists and legal experts expected there would be a delay between the decision and its enactment by Parliament, which is responsible for changing the law.

At the heart of the case is a clause in Taiwan's Civil Code that an agreement to marry should be made between a man and a woman. Chi wanted the court to interpret whether that contravenes elements in Taiwan's Constitution which guarantee equality and freedom of marriage.

The decision is binding, so this means that same-sex unions will be legalised.

This was the first time that the judiciary released the decision simultaneously in Chinese and English, an indication of the level of international interest.

The ruling is likely to reverberate around the region, with calls for marriage equality rising in a number of countries, including South Korea and Japan. Lawyer Huang Di-ying said the court's decision would be "historic". "It will be a barometer of human rights protection in the region, as Asia follows the US and Europe's steps to recognise same-sex marriages," he told AFP.

Taiwan is seen as one of the most progressive societies in Asia when it comes to gay rights, and momentum has been gathering since President Tsai Ing-wen — who has openly supported marriage equality — came to power last May.

The legislature has also made more progress than ever, with proposals to amend the Civil Code, passing the first reading in December.

However, as well as huge pro-gay marriage rallies, hundreds of thousands have gathered to demonstrate against legalising same-sex unions. Conservative and religious groups in Taiwan say that it would destroy family values. "Family conflicts will increase and the whole definition of marriage will be changed," said Andrew Chang, a spokesman for an anti-gay marriage group Alliance of Religious Groups for the Love of Families Taiwan. "Ancestral lineage and family structure will all be disrupted," he added, saying he believed having sex with someone of the same gender was "unnatural and harmful".

With inputs from AFP

Updated Date: May 24, 2017 18:58:27 IST