Taiwan Becomes First Asian Nation To Legalize Same-Sex Marriage

Taiwan has become the first nation in Asia to legally recognize same-sex marriage.

Taiwan has become the first Asian nation to legalize same-sex marriage, perhaps a sign that the movement toward marriage equality is beginning to make progress beyond Europe, North America, and parts of South America:

As tens of thousands of demonstrators filled the rainy streets of Taipei on Friday, lawmakers in Taiwan voted to legalize same-sex marriage, a first for Asia.

“We want to marry!” supporters outside the legislature chanted in approval of the measure, as they applauded and waved signs and rainbow banners.

“On May 17th, 2019 in #Taiwan, #LoveWon,” President Tsai Ing-wen tweeted after the vote. “We took a big step towards true equality, and made Taiwan a better country.”

The legislature faced a deadline imposed by Taiwan’s constitutional court, which in 2017 struck down the Civil Code’s definition of marriage as exclusively between a man and woman. The court gave the government two years to revise the law, or same-sex couples would automatically be allowed to have their marriages registered by the local authorities.

“Love has won over hate, and equality has won over discrimination,” Annie Huang, acting director of Amnesty International Taiwan, said in a statement. “This is a moment to cherish and celebrate, but it has been a long and arduous campaign for Taiwan to become the first in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage.”

Taiwan has long been a leader of gay rights in Asia, a region where such rights have lagged, and the annual gay pride parade in Taipei is a magnet for gays and lesbians from countries where discrimination and unequal treatment is far more entrenched. In one of the harshest examples in the region, Brunei this year put into effect new laws that authorized executions by stoning for gay sex and adultery, although the country’s leader said it would maintain a de facto moratorium on the death penalty.

Ms. Tsai, who took office in 2016, said during her campaign that she supported same-sex marriage, and her left-leaning Democratic

Progressive Party, which took control of the legislature for the first time that year, also generally favors such legislation.

But momentum for a same-sex marriage law had stalled as opponents, including some church and conservative groups, campaigned against the mandated changes. Voters overwhelmingly opposed same-sex marriage in referendums last year, and politicians have been slow to move forward out of fears of being punished in next year’s general election.
That left the government facing a May 24 deadline. Several gay couples said they planned to get married on that day, regardless of whether the legislature acts.

Marriage equality advocates have criticized the proposal issued by Taiwan’s cabinet, the Executive Yuan, which would authorize same-sex marriage but limit adoption rights. But they have said they support it over two competing bills that use formulations of “union” and “familial relationship” instead of “marriage.”

“The Executive Yuan’s version is already what we see as the ‘compromise bill’ and there must be no more compromises,” said Jennifer Lu, chief coordinator of Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan, the state-run Central News Agency reported.

Some lawmakers from the D.P.P. have said they would support one of the alternative bills, leaving it unclear just what form the final legislation would take.

But supporters of marriage equality claimed victory midday Friday after the legislature approved an article that would allow same-sex couples to register their marriages.

“This clause was approved with a high level of cross-party support, guaranteeing that the Legislative Yuan will complete the high court’s order and on May 24 same-sex couples can register without a hitch,” the Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights said on its Facebook page.

“Taiwan has become the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage,” it said, “successfully striding toward a new page of history!”

The fight for marriage equality has been largely successful in Western Europe North America, and Australia and New Zealand, and is becoming increasingly legal in Central America and South America, where the two largest nations on the continent, Brazil and Argentina, have both legalized marriage equality. Additionally, there are several nations in Eastern Europe that at the very least recognize civil unions with the same legal rights as to marriage for same-sex couples. In other parts of the world, though, the fight for marriage equality has proceeded far slower.

In Africa, for example, only South Africa has legalized same-sex marriage and none of the other 53 nations on the continent recognize even civil unions for gay and lesbian couples. The situation is largely the same in Asia, where no nation other than Taiwan has legalized same-sex marriage and none of the other 52 nations on the continent have granted marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples. The only exception to that rule appears to be Israel, which recognizes the validity of same-sex marriages performed in other countries but does not permit gay and lesbian citizens to marry in the State of Israel itself. Indeed, Asia includes nations such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Brunei that continue to imprison gays and lesbians, or worse.

For the most part, the reasons for this are a combination of culture and religion. Large portions of Asia, for example, are Muslim and the religious proscriptions against homosexuality in that faith are as strong as they are in the most extreme parts of the Old Testament. In Afghanistan, Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen, homosexual activity is punished with the death penalty. Even in nations where the laws are not that extreme, there are religious and cultural biases against homosexuality to such an extent that there is very little recognition of LGBT rights of any kind. This includes “westernized” nations such as Japan and South Korea, although both of those nations seem to slowly be becoming more accepting of homosexuality in general to the point where one can realistically see an eventual evolution to the point where same-sex marriage is legally recognized. In that respect, this action in Taiwan could prove to be the starting point for at least some progress for LGBT rights on the world’s largest continent.

FILED UNDER: Afghanistan War, Africa, LGBTQ Issues, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Teve says:

    An “Intelligent Design” Creationist going by the name Kairosfocus is currently writing a very long-winded and bizarre thread explaining how gay marriage isn’t real, can’t be marriage, is self-evidently accelerating the Ruin of Civilization, and so forth. A few commenters are pressing him for evidence and he’s not handling it well.

  2. just nutha says:

    What was most curious to me was that Kairosfocus didn’t realize that the sources he was citing could just as easily be used to argue against his or her thesis as they seem to reinforce that culture rather than ‘truth’ determines what becomes legal. Not an uncommon mistake, though.

  3. Gustopher says:

    I’m wondering how much of the opposition comes from colonialism bringing religion.

    I don’t think Buddhism has much to say about gayfolk, and I have no idea about Hindu, or how Islam got to the Southeastern Asia island nations.

    I lack enough knowledge to make any meaningful observations.

    Anyway, this is good news.

  4. wr says:

    @Teve: I’ve got an 18-hour non-stop flight to Singapore coming up — and now I’m going to have nightmares of being stuck next to this Kairosfocus…

  5. DrDaveT says:

    Global dissemination of news is making for some weird sequencing in cultural shifts. I’m waiting for the first nation to decide that yes, women can marry each other, but some man will still own their property and custody of their children.