May 24, 2017 at 8:00 am PDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Taiwan becomes first Asian country to recognize same-sex marriage

Activists in Taipei, Taiwan, on May 24, 2017, celebrate the Taiwan Constitutional Court ruling that recognized same-sex marriage. (Photo courtesy of Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association)

Taiwan on Wednesday became the first Asian country to legally recognize same-sex marriage.

The Taiwanese Constitutional Court ruled the provision of the island’s civil code that does not “allow two persons of the same sex to create a permanent union of intimate and exclusive nature for the committed purpose of managing a life together” is unconstitutional.

The ruling orders lawmakers to “amend or enact relevant laws” within two years. Same-sex couples will be able to legally marry if they fail to meet this deadline.

The Associated Press reported same-sex marriage supporters who were gathered outside the Taiwanese legislature in Taipei, the island’s capital, reacted to the ruling with “rapturous applause.”

Chi Chia-wei, a prominent gay rights advocate, first tried to register a marriage to his partner in 1986.

The Taiwanese Constitutional Court ruled against Chi in 2015. He once again challenged the constitutionality of the island’s same-sex marriage ban and the Taipei City Government’s Department of Civil Affairs joined his case.

The court heard the lawsuit in March.

An amendment to include same-sex marriage in the country’s civil code passed a preliminary review by the Committee of the Legislative Yuan (Taiwan’s Parliament) late last year.

President Tsai Ing-wen is among those who publicly support marriage rights for same-sex couples. The Alliance of Religious Groups for the Love of Families Taiwan continues to oppose efforts to allow gays and lesbians to tie the knot on the island.

“After waiting for two months, we finally witness the grand justices marking a new milestone in the history of gender movements as well as the constitution of Taiwan,” said the Marriage Equality Coalition, a Taiwanese advocacy group, in a statement after the court announced its ruling. “This is the first time that an interpretation of the constitution declares the discriminations embedded in Taiwanese laws against the LGBTQ community unconstitutional, as they violate the fundamental rights of equality and marriage freedom granted by the constitution.”

Activists: Ruling will resonate throughout Asia

A Nepalese committee in 2015 recommended the country’s government extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.

The Nepalese constitution that lawmakers approved in 2005 includes sexual orientation and gender identity. The Marriage Equality Coalition said Wednesday’s ruling will resonate throughout Asia.

“As many legal regulations in Taiwan have shifted from pursuing ‘equality between the two genders’ to ‘gender equality,’ this interpretation of the Taiwanese constitution finally moves beyond a dual gender narrative,” it said. “It is not only an important moment for Taiwan, but also an Asian highlight that attracts global attention.”

OutRight Action International Program Field Coordinator Jean Chong agreed.

“The historic ruling in Taiwan paves the way for other Asian countries to follow suit,” said Chong in a statement. “It says you can be Asian, be valued for who you are and who you love, and be on the right side of history. Taiwan might just start a positive domino effect where we will see other countries like Japan, Vietnam, and Thailand following in these footsteps.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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