Taiwan looks set to be the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage.
The question being asked is how this Asian country with a population of almost 20 million, predominantly Chinese in origins, presumably conservative with a majority Buddhist background, come to the fore on this long and arduous road.
Although there are many possible reasons, I see at least 3.
- GAY SEX HAS NEVER BEEN A CRIME IN TAIWAN
To begin with, 377A never existed in Taiwan. “Same-sex sexual activity has never been stated as a crime in Taiwan, unlike many Western countries.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_rights_in_Taiwan) While Hong Kong, Singapore, India as well as other former British colonies had to fight this legal battle with different degrees of success, Taiwan was spared. As a result, Taiwan skipped a step and could progress quite quickly to change the hearts and minds of the Taiwanese population, which is a greater hurdle than legislation.
- TAIWAN DID A WONDERFULLY SUCCESSFUL JOB OF CHANGING THE HEARTS AND MINDS OF HER POPULACE
As far back as 1983, the renowned and respected Taiwanese writer, Bai Xianyong (白先勇), wrote “Crystal Boys” （孽子）which had been made into movies and a more recent television series. Readers and audiences were won over by the plight of Ah Qing （阿清）, the young gay protagonist and his group of young gay men especially when very handsome actors took the roles in the TV series. Then there was the cheerful movie Formula 17 (17岁的天空，2004） which showed that the gay life can be cheerful and optimistic in spite of…. Another noticeable trend is that Taiwan’s public TV station has broadcasted a lot of late night talk shows discussing the issue. Even the ever popular Kang-Hsi Talk Show （康熙来了） was courageous enough to discuss the issues openly. Of course, host Cai Kangyong （蔡康永）, being openly gay himself helped in its persuasiveness. Many of the talk shows, although claiming to be neutral had always at the end, tended to bend to supporting the LGBTQ rights in Taiwan. ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tiiVFqIsOUI 公共電視 爸媽囧很大 and others easily accessible on Youtube) Of course we must not forget Director Ang Lee （李安） whose 2 gay movies made world news and received accolades Taiwanese people are still very, very proud of. We are talking about The Wedding Banquet (喜宴) and Brokeback Mountain, which went on to receive the Oscars and Golden Globes.
- VOICES OF SUPPORT FROM CELEBRITIES
Famous supporters include Ah Mei (阿妹,张惠妹) and Jolin Tsai (蔡依林). Ah Mei has always promoted equality of love, using the rainbow flag at her concerts and celebrating love by flashing couples in her audience kissing, even same-sex ones. Jolin Tsai made the music video in which she is one half of a lesbian couple and kisses actress Ruby Lin（不一樣又怎樣 We’re All Different, Yet The Same https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C7hHofDW2ts） Gui Yalei （归亚蕾）, doyen of Taiwanese movies acted in the same video as the character in old age who cannot visit her gay lover as she lies dying in the emergency ward. She is also the mother who comes to terms with her gay son in “The Wedding Banquet” and more recently as the mother who helps her gay son find a surrogate mum in “Baby Steps”(满月酒). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nfq9VjqOvMc
Two recent incidents have expedited the process in Taiwan.
- A TRAGIC SUICIDE
Sometimes it takes a suicide. The much politicized death of a former French lecturer, Jacques Picoux（畢安生）from Taiwan National University, who was so traumatized by the death of his partner of 35 years, Li Yanrong(李晏榕)’s death from cancer that he subsequently jumped to his death. http://www.upmedia.mg/news_info.php?SerialNo=5922. The tragic incident was the trigger for many who felt that if Taiwanese law had allowed them the status of a married couple, things would have turned out differently.
- SCANDALS FROM THE VOCAL RIGHT WING
The scandal involving anti-marriage equality proponent Zhang Shouyi （张守一）, who was caught with his pants down. Zhang is the Secretary General of Alliance of Taiwan Religious Groups Protection of Family (Hu Jia Meng 护家盟), a vocal conservative group.
He supposedly, while strongly opposing same-sex marriage, has kept a mistress with whom he has an illegitimate daughter http://www.chinatimes.com/cn/realtimenews/20161207001746-260405. So it seems that to him, infidelity in marriage is fine but gay rights is not. With this type of revelation, it remains to be seen how the Taiwanese public would view him and his strong homophobic convictions.
We wait with bated breath as the Taiwanese law makers debate the issue. We wish Taiwan and the Taiwanese LGBTQ community the very best because they and their country deserve it, having worked so hard through the decades.
Picture source: https://www.facebook.com/TaiwanHotline/photos/pcb.10154391157829263/10154391153254263/?type=3&theater