Taiwan LGBT activists thank Australia for helping make same-sex marriage legal

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More than 100 same-sex couples in Taiwan are expected to register their intent to marry from today when the same-sex marriage bill becomes law, and LGBT activists say this has been made possible thanks to the help of Australians.

Key points:

  • Taiwan’s same-sex marriage campaign was modelled on Australia’s Yes campaign
  • Videos of personal life stories of Taiwan’s LGBT community clocked 3 million views
  • The Government legalised same-sex marriage with a new bill, separate to the marriage law

Taiwan became the first place in Asia to legalise same-sex marriage last Friday after a long-awaited bill passed 66 to 27 in the self-ruling island’s constitutional court, granting same-sex couples some of the same rights available to heterosexual married couples.

Jennifer Lu, chief coordinator of Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan, told the ABC that Australian Yes campaigners significantly strengthened the island’s fight for marriage equality.

Timeline: Decriminalising homosexuality

 
The years between first and last Australian states decriminalising male homosexuality.

The coalition’s social media campaign “What Love Has Taught Us” was modelled on Australia’s Yes campaign, which promoted videos of personal life stories from Australia’s LGBT community.

The six videos made for the Taiwan same-sex marriage campaign — ahead of Taiwan’s non-compulsory referendum on same-sex marriage last November — clocked more than 3 million views on YouTube and Facebook in just two months.

Ms Lu said the social media strategy was key to achieving the coalition’s objectives because its budget could not compete with the deep pockets of conservatives, who spent more than $40 million to oppose marriage equality on traditional media outlets.

“It was very difficult, but we followed and learned from what the Yes campaigners did in Australia,” Ms Lu said, adding that the social media videos really resonated with the Taiwanese community.

Among 27 countries that legally recognise same-sex marriage, Australia is the only country other than Ireland to have won the right after a public vote.

Ms Lu said the coalition sought help from Australia because it was geographically closer than Ireland, and Australia also recently conducted a postal survey similar to Taiwan’s referendum on same-sex marriage.

Two women wearing wedding dresses stamp their names in front of a statue of Buddha in a prayer hall.

Alex Greenwich, co-chair of Australia’s Yes campaign, told the ABC that Australian campaigners also helped build online support groups for the local LGBT community in Taiwan.

“[Taiwan] had legal battles, political battles and a public vote … which is very similar to Australia,” he said.

“Both [countries] faced very powerful opponents in that battle.”

‘We still need to fight for more equality’

YOUTUBE:A video from Taiwan’s “What Love Taught Us” social media campaign

In 2017, Taiwan’s highest court ruled that denying gay and lesbian couples the right to marry violated the island’s constitution, and gave politicians two years to legalise same-sex marriage or see it enacted automatically on May 24.

However, significant pushback from the conservatives led the Government to hold a non-binding referendum alongside its mid-term election last November that included questions on same-sex marriage.

About two-thirds of people who voted rejected marriage equality, a setback not only for the LGBT community but also for President Tsai Ing-wen, who is hoping to run for a second term.

While Taiwan’s LGBT groups have been advocating for an amendment to the Civil Code’s definition of marriage as exclusively between a man and woman, the Government was forced to draft a separate bill for same-sex couples to appease conservatives and voters after the referendum.

Similar to Australia’s marriage law, Taiwan’s same-sex marriage law grants the same legal protections for marriage as heterosexuals couples in the areas such as taxation and social security.

But it is still seen by Taiwan LGBT advocates as compromise because it limits same-sex couples from marrying a foreign citizen and only allows gay couples to adopt the biological children of their partner.

Ms Lu said there were also many grey areas such as transnational marriages and artificial reproduction.

“We still need to fight for more equality,” Ms Lu’s Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan said in a statement.

“LGBT people may still face discrimination and prejudice in their daily lives including schools and workplaces.

“The passing of this bill today is not an end to the marriage equality movement.”

Taiwanese same-sex marriage supporters hug each other while the crowd celebrating the long-awaited same-sex marriage legislation

Mr Greenwich said sometimes it took many failed attempts before a successful one, adding that the setback from Taiwan’s referendum would only strengthen LGBT activists’ resolve.

“It’s not a matter of how you lose, it’s what you do on the back of those losses that makes all the difference,” he said.

Ms Lu said she would continue to use the advocacy strategies developed by Australia’s Yes campaign to “help other countries in the future”.

“Thank you Australia,” she said.

Same-sex marriage supporters gather outside the Legislative Yuan in Taipei, Taiwan.
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