AN UNEXPECTED REVERSAL BY THE DPP ON MARRIAGE EQUALITY?

Taiwan (NewBloom) – BACKSLIDING BY the DPP on marriage equality has led to rage from members of the LGBTQ community and allies. On Friday, the majority leader of the DPP, Ker Chien-ming made public statements indicating that the DPP has decided to move in the direction of realizing marriage equality by seeking to add an amendment to the existing Civil Code.

In particular, the DPP has been unable to resolve the issue of whether some form of marriage equality is to be realized through changing the civil code or adding an amendment to the existing civil code. Changing the Civil Code would be more wide-sweeping in nature, seeing as this would change currently gendered language in other sections of the Civil Code, such as language referring to “husbands and wives” or to “fathers and mothers.” As such, adding an amendment to the existing Civil Code would be more conservative in nature.

Ker stated that because of the divided verdict with the DPP about whether to change the Civil Code or add an amendment to the existing Civil Code, both would be sent back to the Judiciary and Organic Laws and Statutes Committee of the Legislative Yuan for discussion. The DPP does not seem to wish to go through with unifying the three competing versions of the bill currently circulating between the DPP, KMT, and NPP. This is likely because KMT and NPP versions of the bill change gendered language within the Civil Code.

The KMT version of the bill as proposed by Jason Hsu has faced opposition from within the party, leading to Hsu backing down from his own bill. But Ker’s comments, claiming the need to investigate the effects of changing Article 972 of the Civil Code which defines marriage as between “husband and wife,” suggest that the DPP may even seek to back down from the original language of its bill, which does change limited aspects of the Civil Code that are gendered in nature.

In general, Ker’s comments are seen as further stalling by the DPP on the matter of marriage equality, however, since this will cause the process of legislating marriage equality to drag on longer. Some see this as the DPP seeking to avoid the issue of marriage equality after demonstrations held by anti-marriage equality groups indicating that there are elements of Taiwanese society that remain opposed to marriage equality. Namely, Ker’s statements came after the first of two public hearings on marriage equality held by the Legislative Yuan, something agreed to by the Legislative Yuan after large-scale rallies by anti-marriage equality groups drew 20,000 onto the streets of Taipei on November 17th, during the first reading of the marriage equality bill. One hearing was organized by the KMT and the other is to be held by the DPP. The first hearing, however, was plagued by anti-marriage equality speakers and saw demonstrations outside from both pro-marriage equality and anti-marriage equality groups.

Anti-marriage equality groups have claimed that changing legislation referring to marriage as between a man and a woman would disrupt marriage as the fundamental building block of the family and in this way lead to the dissolution of social order. As such, Ker has claimed the need to maintain social consensus before moving forward with legislation. As justifying the more limited changes to the Civil Code to be accomplished through adding an amendment to the Civil Code rather than changing its language, this would leave the definition of marriage intact in a way that would be more conciliatory to anti-marriage equality groups.

But Ker’s statements are also interpreted as indicating the future direction of the DPP on the matter of marriage equality. In spite of campaign promises by the Tsai administration to realize marriage equality in 2016 presidential elections, marriage equality is probably a divisive issue among some elements of the DPP, given the strong influence of the Presbyterian Chuch within the party. Former vice president Annette Lu, for example, has in the past declared AIDS to be the “wrath of God” against gay people. Perhaps Ker’s stance will allow for DPP legislators to break rank and indicate open opposition to marriage equality.

And to begin with, despite campaign promises, the Tsai administration originally indicated that it was planning to push for “separate but equal” civil partnerships rather than marriage equality. The Tsai administration later flip-flopped to push for marriage equality and Ker Chien-Ming has claimed that regardless of whether marriage equality is realized through adding an amendment to the Civil Code or changing the Civil Code, Taiwan will remain the first Asian country to realize marriage equality. Yet there are indications that there is actually a split within the DPP between those who push for marriage equality and those who push for civil partnerships.

The Judicial Yuan’s challenge to legislator Yu Mei-nu’s original DPP bill under DPP Minister of Justice Chiu Tai-San is indicative of the Ministry of Justice’s plan to go through with pushing for a bill for civil partnerships, which will not be ready until February. Could it be that the DPP deciding to go with the conservative route of adding an amendment to the Civil Code but largely preserving gendered language of the Civil Code—with the claim that changing the definition of marriage would be too socially disruptive at present—paves the path to the even more conservative path of civil partnerships? Civil partnerships do not grant gay couples the same rights as marriage between heterosexual couples and, though granting further legal rights to gay couples, would further leave intact the definition of marriage by not according gay couples the status of marriage at all. Members of anti-marriage equality groups have sometimes indicated that they would be fine with civil partnerships, so long as same-sex marriages are not legalized or the definition of marriage is not changed.

In all this, it is to be remembered that polling indicates that marriage equality has the majority support of the Taiwanese public. Anti-marriage equality demonstrations that mostly consisted of fundamentalist Christians may have brought 20,000 onto the streets of Taipei in mid-November, but the yearly pride parade that took place in late October had 80,000 participants. With the DPP in control of the presidency, the Legislative Yuan, the Executive Yuan, and the Judicial Yuan, the Tsai administration should have no trouble realizing marriage equality. But either the Tsai administration is getting cold feet on the matter of marriage equality after opposition from some elements of society or the internal divides within the DPP on gay marriage could not be overcome.

Perhaps when all this is over, we will find ourselves sighing at the claim Taiwan would be the first country to legalize same-sex marriage. It may have been hubris to think that it would be so easy to realize marriage equality in Taiwan. That is to say, in spite of the majority support of the Taiwanese population for gay marriage and the opposition of a vocal minority, Taiwan’s politicians were simply too cowardly. Similar claims had previously been circulated in the past about other Asian countries that seemed like they were on the verge of realizing gay marriage, such as Vietnam.

Indeed, without a show of resistance from LGBTQ groups and their allies, Taiwan may go down as such. A call to action has been put out by a coalition of LGBTQ groups, with plans for an action to take place on Monday, November 28th, when a public hearing will be held on the matter by the DPP.

This report prepared by Brian Hioe for New Bloom Magazine.