As you may have heard already, gay marriage has been legalised in Taiwan on 24th May. In this article, we’ll look at how it happened and why it is so significant to the gay community everywhere. Hint: Taiwan is the first Asian country to legalise gay marriage.

Gay marriage in Taiwan: how it happened

The decision was in fact made two years ago. Taiwan has something called “Judicial Yuan”, which is the judicial arm of the government. In 2017, this Yuan ruled that same-sex marriage should be allowed under the constitution. The ruling came into force this May.

Gay couples could register their relationship nationwide back in 2017. However, they did not have the same rights as married couples. Various parts of Taiwan had been offering this registration since 2015, but LGBT+ groups often criticised it as being a joke.

However, perhaps this was a sign that things were moving along. Gay couples were also welcomed to mass wedding ceremonies in some parts of Taiwan, despite being unable to marry legally. And the criticism from the gay community towards these “inadequate” measures, alongside protests and other types of direct action, slowly helped Taiwan inch towards the big step.

There were also multiple attempts to legalise gay marriage in Taiwan through other means. One couple took their case through the courts. The legislators proposed various bills prior to the 2017 decision. Crucially, different politicians expressed their support for LGBT+ rights.

Results of a referendum overruled

A dangerous proposal was rejected in 2016. Had it been accepted, the only way to legalise gay marriage would have been through a referendum, and we almost certainly would not have seen the legalisation in 2019. The numbers of protestors against legalisation of same-sex marriage were in tens of thousands.

However, a referendum did take place in 2018. The public proved to be overwhelmingly against gay marriage in Taiwan. Luckily, the Constitutional Court had already ruled in favour of gay marriage at that point. The referendum results were ignored as they could not override the court’s decision.

Lesbians marry more often than gay men

The numbers we have from earlier registrations of same-sex couples suggest that gay women are more active in registering their relationships than gay men. There were approximately four times more female than male couples registered in Taiwan.

What many called the first same-sex marriage in Taiwan (although this was in 2012, before the legalisation of gay marriage) was also a union between two females. The good news is, after the legalisation we see a higher percentage of male couples tying the knot.

There are further battles ahead

Activist celebrating gay marriage in Taiwan and waving a flag

Activist celebrating the legalisation of gay marriage in Taiwan. Image by Kokuyo via Wikimedia Commons, licence CC BY-SA 4.0.

Now same-sex couples in Taiwan can get married, but adoption is only limited to couples where one of the partners is the child’s biological parent. Hopefully this will change in the future and gay couples will have equal rights to heterosexual couples in matters of adoption as well.

There is a further difference between gay and heterosexual couples in Taiwan when it comes to marriage. Partners in a straight couple have to be 16 (for women) and 18 (for men) years old, whereas gay partners would have to be 18 years old to marry. If either partner is under 20, they would also need their parents to approve the marriage.

There is still a lot of resistance to gay marriage from the general public. However, the polling results are encouraging. Depending on the polls, 50-70% of the Taiwan’s population support same-sex marriage. This rises to 80% amongst young people.

The law does not address marriage between nationals of different countries. This will likely be clarified in the future. Currently the Taiwanese can only marry same-sex partners who are from countries where gay marriage is legal. Unfortunately, this rules out all other Asian countries.

A significant step in the far East

Why does it matter so much to us in the U.K.?

Well, Taiwan is the first country to legalise gay marriage in Asia. The hope is that other nations will follow Taiwan’s example. This is a huge victory for LGBT+ people and their allies everywhere.

Because, let’s face it, the taste of freedom that we have in London would be that much sweeter if we didn’t know that somewhere in the world someone is being imprisoned, tortured or murdered for their sexuality. LGBT+ issues are global.

Gay marriage in the rest of Asia

So we know Taiwan is a pioneer in declaring gay marriage legal in Asia, but where are other Asian countries at?

In 20 Asian countries being gay is illegal. So Iran, Malaysia or Sri Lanka might not be your ideal travel destinations at the moment. Armenia and Israel recognise gay marriage if it happened abroad. Weirdly, Armenia also has a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage within the country.

The majority of Asian countries, however, simply do not recognise same-sex marriage. It will be interesting to see how this will change in the coming decade, now that Taiwan has led the way and shown what is possible.

  • More on gay history? Read our guide to historical gay London and plan a walk around the capital.