This past Sunday, if you went by Union Square, you saw the annual Passport to Taiwan Festival. Held on a day within the second full week of May, the specific week within Asian Pacific American Heritage month dedicated to Taiwanese Americans, the festival had everything from live music played by Taiwanese American talent, to food stands where people tried staples of Taiwanese cuisine. But this year the festival had even more than usual to celebrate. Besides the Taiwanese Relations Act and a rich immigrant history, this years’ festival also celebrated Taiwan’s historic ruling on marriage equality.
With a bill passed on May 17 and taking into effect on May 24, Taiwan became the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage. After years and years of activism and pride, the vote came down to 66-27. So, this years’ Taiwanese American Heritage week also marked the lead up to Taiwan’s marriage equality ruling. Now that another week’s gone by, here’s all the love and joy from Taiwan’s first week of marriage equality.
Taiwanese couples wasted no time after the monumental ruling to tie the knot. NPR reported that this past Saturday, around 20 couples married during a huge banquet celebration in Taipei. The couples walked down a red carpet, supporters applauding and cheering for them on their way in.
According to CNN, there was more than 1,000 people involved in the mass celebration of love. There were stage performances of live music and drag, and food for everyone to enjoy. A huge moment of the night was when iconic Taiwanese gay rights activist Chia Chia-wei married Marc Yuan and Shane Lin, one of the first couples to wed. Chia Chia-wei became a prominent face of gay rights in Taiwan when he came out on national television back in March 1986. For decades since then, Chia Chia-wei has been a leader for LGBTQ issues such the care needed for HIV/AIDS patients, Chia Chia-wei opened a center specifically for their needs. For the wedding banquet, Chia Chia-wei wore a rainbow headband and a red coat decorated with teddy bears, prideful as always.
Gay rights has long been a difficult and divisive issue in Asia, but it’s now finally seeing major progress. It’s important, though, to acknowledge the ways Taiwan, and other Asian countries, still have to go. Taiwan’s historic move towards gay rights did not come without controversy and caveats.
Taiwan’s’ status as a country is still largely debated. Despite having its own President (right now, the nation has its first female president Tsai Ing-wen) and government, many still treat the country as part of China, this was very evident in how news outlets reported Taiwan’s historic ruling. Instead of reporting Taiwan as the first country, many leaned on vague language to avoid making a definitive statement on Taiwan’s agency as a nation. A popular choice of phrasing has been to just call Taiwan the first “place” in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage.The Guardian even walked back on their initial caption on Instagram, making a correction to label Taiwan as a state. This kind of reporting, though standard at this point given how tense the issue of Taiwan’s status is, not only robs the country of its agency but downplays how big of an advance this was for gay rights in Asia.
So, let’s state it right now clearly: Taiwan was the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage.
The since deleted post from the Guardian’s Instagram.
As historic and amazing as this was though, the legislature does still put limitations on LGBTQ couples. Amnesty International pointed out that the law still skirts around aspects of adoption and custody rights. The issue of children has been one of the most debated aspects of marriage equality in Taiwan, it was a large part of all the drafts drawn of the bill and a factor that anti-gay protesters clung to.
This new legislature does allow same-sex couples custody of children, however, the children must have biological ties to the couple for joint-adoption. Straight couples have always had the right to adopt non-biological children. So, now that a week of a celebration and love has gone by, more activism and work must follow. This was a monumental move towards equality, but there’s always more work to be done. It’s as Chia Chia-wei told The New York Times “Progress is good. More progress is even better.”