Taiwan’s historic moment gives us hope that equality is on its way and that love will win worldwide.
As we know, June is LGBT Pride Month. It’s a time when LGBTQ culture is celebrated in America and across the world. While it’s an uphill battle, with each year that passes, the world grows more accepting. It’s fitting then that LGBT Pride Month opens after a significant milestone in the fight for same-sex marriage—Taiwan has become the first country in all of Asia to legalize same-sex marriage. On May 24th, a week after lawmakers in Taiwan voted in favor of legalization, the first couples came in to register their unions. It’s the culmination of a long fight, and the victory is one that activists fought tooth and nail to achieve. For Brian Cragun, an American-born talent and vlogger, it was a day he would always remember. “I personally had a hard time keeping the tears back,” he told me as we spoke. “Thinking back to it even now I still get choked up.”
Brian has been living in Taiwan since 2009, and for the most part watched from the sidelines. When he first started doing TV he had to keep quiet about his sexuality. Back then, “it was common knowledge that coming out could be shooting yourself in the foot as a performer.” Despite these old stigmas, Taiwan was surprisingly open by Asia’s standards, and it is now the only country in Asia where same sex marriage is legal. Surprisingly enough, homosexuality itself has never actually been illegal, but it has only been in recent years that attempts have been made to grant full legal rights to same sex couples. One of the major players in the push was Chi Chia-wei, a longtime activist who appealed the law after his 2013 application for a marriage license was rejected. His case eventually reached Taiwan’s Constitutional Court, which in 2017 found that the statutory ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional and gave lawmakers two years to amend marriage laws.
Even then the battle was not over. In September of the following year, a conservative Christian group named the “Alliance for the Next Generation’s Happiness” proposed holding a referendum on whether to legalize same-sex marriage after they had collected the necessary signatures Taiwan’s government scheduled the referendum for November 24, 2018. The pro-LGBTQ initiatives were rejected, dealing a terrible blow to those in favor of marriage equality. These results were non-binding as the Constitutional Court had already ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, but it was widely feared that pressure from the referendum would cause lawmakers to backpedal.
These fears fortunately proved to be unfounded. On February 20th, a draft bill that guaranteed the rights of same-sex couples to marry was passed to Taiwan’s legislature. The opposition made one final attack on marriage equality, submitting two rival bills that greatly limited the rights of gay and lesbian pairings and referred to them as “unions” rather than marriages. These were not put to a vote, and many (including some of Brian’s friends) speculate that legislators were growing tired of the opposition’s actions. In the end their efforts fell apart and love won. The draft bill was approved in May, and it came into effect on the 24th. Hundreds of couples were married that day, with thousands more registering their vows in the days and weeks afterward. Brian, who had missed both the legalization of same-sex marriage in both his home state of Utah and in all 50 states due to his presence in Taiwan, was among those celebrating. While there, he met Chi Chia-Wei, as well as many others who had been involved in the struggle.
While the most liberal of the three bills considered, the law is still far from perfect. For instance there remain heavy restrictions on adoption for same-sex couples. The law also does not allow transnational marriages unless they are ratified in both countries, meaning that if one partner is from a country that does not recognize same-sex marriage, then the marriage won’t be recognized. Still it’s a start, and hopefully it won’t be long until these issues are cleared up.
In many respects, it’s no wonder that Taiwan has become the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage. The country has a bustling LGBTQ scene, and while physical displays of affection are looked down upon, it’s not uncommon to see same-sex couples if you’re ever wandering the streets of Taipei. The country has always been a popular destination for tourists and travelers, and with its increased visibility, the country’s LGBTQ scene has erupted into the mainstream.
Taipei is the nexus of LGBTQ culture in Taiwan, but the cities of Taichung and Kaohsiung also have notable LGBTQ scenes. One notable site is the Red House at Ximending, a historic theater which has taken on a second life as the center of Taipei’s gay scene. Surrounded by clubs, shops, bars, and more, there’s a lot to see and do in the vicinity! Another notable spot, though more on the quiet side, is the 228 Peace Memorial Park in Zhongzheng District. Home to a memorial for those killed in the 1947 2/28 Uprising, it was also a meeting place for LGBTQ youth. In 2003, Taiwan’s first pride parade began here, and it had a major role in Pai Hsien-yung’s famous LGBTQ novel Crystal Boys. As we can see, LGBTQ people have made quite a mark on Taiwan’s culture.
For now, Taiwan is the only country in all of Asia to have legalized same-sex marriage. But that may change sooner rather than later. Bhutan recently legalized homosexuality, and Japan’s opposition party has submitted legislation to allow same-sex marriage. While this bill is highly unlikely to pass, business leaders and other notables have come out in favor of LGBTQ rights. Some Asian countries, such as Thailand, are already very accepting of LGBTQ people. Others however are more hostile, with homosexuality activity punishable by death in a few. The road to complete acceptance will be an extremely long one. Perhaps it won’t come in our lifetimes. But Taiwan’s historic moment gives us hope that equality is on its way and that love will win worldwide. For Brian, it’s a time to be proud of what his country has accomplished. “I just hope that seeing Taiwan legalize same-sex marriage will help more people see what an amazingly special place it is.”