It's not marriage but equality that we long for

By Yang Ya-chi, Amnesty International Taiwan

On this island of Taiwan, there have always been people whose rights are not protected. Overtime, we start to believe that everyone is treated equally but reality has a way of awakening us from this complacency.

My good friend Anja* is a lesbian woman. She has a girlfriend whom she has been with for more than a decade. They live together with Anja’s family and often spend weekends at the home of her girlfriend’s parents. Both their parents have accepted them into their families and treat them as family members. In fact we always tease them for behaving “straighter” than an opposite-sex couple.

Reality has a way of awakening us from this complacency.
Yang Ya-chi, Amnesty International Taiwan

In the autumn of 2016, at the same time the suicide in Taiwan of Frenchman and retired lecturer Jacques Picoux was rekindling the debate on marriage equality , an incident took place that reminded me unfulfilled human rights could be a matter of life and death.

An accident and awakening

My friend Anja and her girlfriend were on their way home one night and while getting off the bus, Anja’s girlfriend fell onto the road and was knocked unconscious. She was sent to a hospital but a doctor there was unwilling to talk to Anja about her girlfriend’s condition as she was “unrelated” to her. It was only when a distant relative whom Anja managed to get in touch with arrived at the emergency room that the doctor gave details of her girlfriend’s condition. 

Fortunately, Anja’s girlfriend recovered and was discharged the next day, and the pair went directly from the hospital to the Taipei City Government office to register as a “same-sex couple”. However, this does not guarantee that medical staff will not discriminate against them should they end up in hospital again. Without marriage equality, this registration is their next best option for some reassurance should an accident take place. 

Over the past months, we have seen people from all walks of life in Taiwan find the courage to come out “of the closet”. By making their private lives public, these brave individuals communicate with society and encourage dialogue with diverse groups. For them, the right to same-sex marriage is not only about the right to get married, but is also about having a society that embraces differences and where people from different walks of life and marginalized groups can live a life without fear of discrimination.

A long journey for LGBT activists

This journey has been a long, arduous one for LGBT activists and supporters. From when the principal of an all-girls’ school publicly denied in 1994 that same-sex relationships existed at her school after two students committed suicide, to now when LGBTI activists have slowly grown into a force. After the enactment of the Gender Equality Education Act and the Act of Gender Equality in Employment [in the early 2000s], this group of activists continues to believe that a more equal and diverse society is possible.   

By making their private lives public, these brave individuals communicate with society and encourage dialogue with diverse groups.
Yang Ya-chi, Amnesty International Taiwan

Taiwan has very passionate LGBTI communities and supporters. Each year at the Pride Parade, Amnesty International Taiwan highlights cases of homophobia in countries round the world where LGBTI people live under threat. These have included the brutal killing of Mihail Stoyanov in a hate crime in Bulgaria, and the murder of Noxolo Nogwaza, a lesbian woman in South Africa. The masses of eager supporters and record-breaking number of signatures we collect at the parade each year remind me that we are not alone. 

A future with the right to love

What we have to do now is to work together with this community of activists and supporters to make Taiwan the first place in Asia to recognize same-sex marriage. This is because our society, while already better than many other countries in terms of equality, is still not equal enough. We are fighting for marriage equality, not because we have a burning desire to get married, but because we are longing for an equal society that respects human rights. 

Some of us have lived through a time when our society denied the existence of same-sex relationships. The future is now in our hands. We deeply believe that if we walk hand in hand, the next generation will enjoy a time with fewer threats and with the right to love. Winter is almost at an end; this summer the sun will shine ever more brilliantly.

* name used is a pseudonym

Amnesty International calls for an end to all forms of discrimination and advocates for the equal protection of all human rights enshrined in international human rights instruments regardless of sexual orientation. Read more.

Facts on Taiwan

  • Population of 23 million
  • President Tsai Ing-wen was elected in January 2016 as Taiwan’s first woman President and publicly endorsed same-sex marriage during her presidential campaign
  • Existing Taiwan Civil Code only recognizes opposite-sex marriages
  • In December 2016, a legislative committee passed preliminary amendments to the Civil Code that would legally recognize same-sex marriage
  • If same-sex marriage is recognized, Taiwan will be the first in Asia
  • On 24 March 2017, the Taiwan Constitutional Court discussed two landmark cases involving same-sex marriage
  • Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan is expected to consider the draft bill before the end of the current legislative session in May, and it will then likely be tabled for a second and third reading at the end of 2017