Legalizing same sex unions will benefit all
The lawyer C.V. Chen (陳長文) recently wrote in support of gay marriage, calling on President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to pull out all the stops to amend the law to allow same-sex marriages.
During a lecture I gave to the Taiwan Bar Association recently, a senior lawyer made clear his own objection to the idea, saying that it was sure to have devastating consequences for the nation, as “homosexuals do not reproduce.” This sets Chen’s remarks in starker contrast. Getting married and starting a family are the most fundamental aspirations of people seeking to establish their place in the world and are basic human rights that have long been denied to homosexuals.
Actually, it was not long ago that homosexuals were ostracised in Taiwan for having sexual orientations and aspirations different from the norm.
In the past, the traditional marriage norms did not allow isonymy, or marriage between people of the same surname. In My Native Land, Chung Li-ho’s (鍾理和) family refuses to bless his union with his wife, Chung Ping-mei (鍾平妹) because of their shared surname. The couple are forced to elope and live a difficult life, but the way they support each other, and Chung’s lucid prose, moved later generations to be more sympathetic to the issue. Chinese society used to believe that isonymy would eventually impede the propagation of the race and so it was prohibited in Chinese law. These restrictions were later removed in our Civil Code, but the custom has remained, causing much misery among many couples simply as a result of having the same name.
Many generations later, we struggle to understand how isonymy could have been so harshly outlawed. Nowadays, we regard the idea that it was an impediment to propagation of the race as faintly ridiculous. A similar argument, however, is being used to oppose same-sex marriage.
In modern society, we no longer take it as read that the primary purpose of marriage is the propagation of future generations. After the gender equality movement dismantled the direct association between gender and propagation on the one hand, and marriage and propagation on the other, it is no longer felt that either propagation or gender need to be viewed exclusively from within the framework of the institution of marriage. The inability of homosexual couples to raise children is dictated only by social norms and conventions.
Some say equal rights for homosexuals cannot rely solely on the legalization of same-sex marriage — I could not agree more. The equal rights movement sought to address the many prejudices that homosexuals encounter. That said, it is important to bring in the issue of partnership rights. Neither an unmarried or a homosexual partner is regarded as having any status within the current legal framework, which has implications for partners when dealing with issues such as medical treatment, insurance or tax. The way to address this is through amending the Civil Code to give unmarried partners or homosexual partners legal status as a spouse or equivalent.
In the middle of last month, Denmark became the 11th country to recognize same-sex marriages. A local gender rights group, the Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights, is soon set to propose a draft amendment to the Civil Code allowing for the legalization of same-sex marriages. This proposed amendment, together with a previously announced draft partnership law, which addressed both homosexual and heterosexual partnerships, would be the first of its type in Asia.
In Taiwan we like to think we have made great strides in human rights, but is the progress as impressive as we would have others believe? The legislation of same-sex marriages and partnerships will be the real test.
Kuan Hsiao-wei is an assistant professor of law at National Taiwan University.
Translated by Paul Cooper