Voters in Taiwan have rejected same-sex marriage in a referendum this past week. This is seen as a big setback to LGBTQ+ couples hoping their island would be the first country in Asia to let same-sex couples share child custody and insurance benefits.
The vote was organized by Christian groups that make up about 5 percent of Taiwan’s population and advocates of the traditional Chinese family structure. The results directly contradicts a May 2017 constitutional court ruling in which Justices told legislators to make same-sex marriage legal within two years. This would be a first for Asia, where religion and conservative governments normally keep same-sex marriage bans in place.
Although the ballot from last week is advisory only, it is expected to frustrate lawmakers mindful of public opinion since they face the court deadline next year; Many legislators will stand for re-election in 2020.
“The legislature has lots of choices on how to make this court order take effect,” referendum proponent Chen Ke, a Catholic pastor in Taiwan and an opponent of same-sex marriage, said.
Ruling party lawmakers backed by president Tsai Ing-wen had proposed legalizing same-sex marriage in late 2016, but put aside their ideas to await the court hearing. Opposition to same-sex marriage came to a head after the court ruling. Opponents have held rallies and mobilized 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,” Shiau Hong-chi, a professor of gender studies and communications management at Shih-Hsin University in Taiwan, said. “One way or another it has to go back to the court.”
Voters approved a separate measure on Saturday calling for a “different process” to protect same-sex unions. It is viewed as an alternative to using the civil code. A third initiative, also approved, asked that schools avoid teaching LGBTQ+ “education.”
Amnesty International told the government it needed to “deliver equality and dignity.”
“This result is a bitter blow and a step backwards for human rights in Taiwan,” Amnesty’s Taiwan-based acting director Annie Huang, said. “However, despite this setback, we remain confident that love and equality will ultimately prevail.”