Taiwan Celebrates Landmark Ruling on Same-Sex Marriage

Taiwan's constitutional court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage Wednesday, a landmark decision paving the way for marriage equality in the country.

Veteran LGBT activist Chi Chia-Wei, 59, petitioned the court earlier this year, arguing that a civil law defining marriage as the union between a woman and a man infringed on constitutional rights to equality after the Taipei city government refused him and his longterm partner the right to marry in 2013.

The court agreed with Chi and ruled the current legislation as unconstitutional. The Legislative Yuan, the country's parliament, has two years to change the law to comply with the court's ruling, posted in full by the Ministry of Culture on its Twitter account. The Ministry of Culture added the hashtag #loveislove, which many social media users are sharing to celebrate the news.

Taiwan same-sex marriage
Supporters hug each other during a rally after Taiwan's constitutional court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to legally marry, the first such ruling in Asia, in Taipei, Taiwan, May 24. Tyrone Siu /Reuters

Armed with rainbow-colored umbrellas to defy the rain, hundreds of pro-marriage equality supporters rallied in celebration of the ruling in Taipei. The ruling is the biggest victory so far for same-sex marriage campaigners, who have long been advocating for marriage equality in the country.

In October, the suicide of retired French professor Jacques Picoux, who was reportedly suffering from depression after being denied the right to make medical decisions about his partner of 35 years in the last stages of his battle with cancer, pushed the issue to the top of the civil rights agenda in Taiwan. As many as 200,000 people participated in a pro-marriage equality rally in Taipei in December, according to the organizers.

Hosting the largest gay pride in the continent, Taiwan is considered progressive, compared to its Asian neighbors. Cambodia and Vietnam have lifted bans on same-sex marriage, but do not yet fully recognize same-sex unions. In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte retracted a campaign promise to make same-sex marriage legal. Homosexuality is legal in Indonesia, with the exception of the ultra-conservative province of Aceh which bans sex outside marriage and same-sex relationships, but recent crackdown on the LGBT community has raised concerns among human rights activists.

Even in Taiwan, support for marriage equality isn't universal, as a group of anti same-sex marriage protesters demonstrated outside the court Wednesday. But they may be part of a shrinking minority.

Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has been an outspoken supporter of marriage equality already in her campaign, posting a video on Facebook ahead of Taiwan's 2015 gay pride, pledging her support for same-sex union. "In the face of love, everyone is equal," she said. "Let everyone have the freedom to love and to pursue their happiness."

After the ruling, Tsai said in a statement the government will work to propose legislation in accordance with the ruling to the legislative assembly for consideration as soon as possible. The president also called on Taiwanese society to understand, tolerate and respect different views on the matter. "We believe that Taiwan has a mature democratic mechanism to resolve any difference".

The chair of Tsai's rival party Kuomintang (KMT), Wu Den-yih, seemed to rejoice at the ruling, posting the picture of a rainbow on Facebook and changing his status to "feeling great." Wu had declared his opposition to changing the law to allow for same-sex marriage as recently as February, as people commenting underneath his status pointed out, posting links to articles.

The platform coordinating the campaign for marriage equality rights shared Wu's post on its Facebook page, commenting "We thank KMT president Wu for his blessings and hope that the KMT will not be the greatest obstacle to the future marriage law."