Next year Taiwan will become the first Asian nation to legally recognize same-sex marriages. With the passage of relevant amendments by a legislative committee two days ago, the outcome is all but certain when the proposed amendments get their final reading next year.
It is no surprise that Taiwan is the first Asian country to go this route. A mid-sized democracy of 23 million people, the country’s culture is a blend of Chinese, Japanese, aboriginal and western elements, but in recent years its political elites take most of their cues from the West, and since democratization in the 1980s and ‘90s, generations of Taiwanese have returned with advanced degrees from western universities, deepening the western influence. Taiwan is also a staunch ally of the US, and the changes in American marriage law brought by Obergefell played no small role in convincing many here that Taiwan should follow suit.
I’ve lived in Taiwan as an American expat since 1996 and love the culture and people. Though I have been for much of my life an advocate of gay and lesbian rights (which I understand as rights not to be harassed or discriminated against in employment or education) I am against this change to the country’s laws, which is happening in unfortunately familiar ways.
Familiar is the top-down manner in which the new definition of marriage is being imposed. Rather than allow for a referendum on the issue, which most opponents of the change demanded, the legislature is seeking to pass the new marriage law on its own. As in Australia, supporters of same-sex marriage here do not want to take the risk of allowing the citizenry to weigh in. The citizenry, after all, might give the “wrong” answer.
So there is widespread suspicion of a betrayal of the will of the people, as we saw also in the US when the Supreme Court decided the marriage debate on its own in Obergefell.
Also familiar are the crowds of mostly young protesters surrounding the Legislative Yuan, the energy and moral certainty of these crowds, and the crowds of protesters on the other side, mainly from Christian, Buddhist and Taoist organizations, firmly against changing the meaning of marriage. Whereas the former are celebrating the joy of their certainty with the élan of attendees at a pop concert, the latter, to judge by their looks, seem mainly to be saying: “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
To talk to Americans in the pro-LGBT camp, one often gets the impression that they believe Christians and Muslims are the only staunch opponents of same-sex marriage and gender ideology. This is myopic of course. Most of the world’s cultural and religious traditions, across Asia and through Africa (whether Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, or the myriad African and more local traditions) understand that marriage is between male and female. Thus the Buddhists and Taoists protesting the new marriage amendments in Taiwan. Their opposition, interestingly, surprised a few of my western peers.
“Aren’t Buddhists more progressive?” one asked.
“Yes,” I said. “Their ideas of progress are not yours.”
Familiar also is the arrogance of those pushing the law through. They know what human rights are, they just know, and if anyone opposes their proposed redefinition of marriage, it has to be because of a lack of knowledge.
One of the legislators active in pushing the amendments, Yu Mei-nu, was quoted at length in the Taipei Times, an English-language newspaper that solidly supports the changes (and that recently ran an editorial prodding Taiwanese to reform their “archaic ideas” of marriage):
“The public can rest assured that the legislation will not change heterosexual marriage in any way, but it will extend [the rights and obligations of] such marriages to same-sex couples,” she said. “The legislation will not destroy the family or abolish marriage.”
The legalization of same-sex marriage does not cause civic unrest in the Netherlands, which was the first country to legalize same-sex marriage, Yu said, urging marriage equality opponents to exercise tolerance.
She rejected proposals to launch a referendum to decide on marriage equality, saying a human rights issue should not be put to the vote.
“We are not God. How do we have the right to decide on other people’s human rights?” Yu asked.
That too is depressingly familiar. Legislator Yu is part of a cadre of lawyers and politicians, largely from one party, seeking to railroad through legislation that offends against the basic male-female understanding of marriage common to all the cultural traditions that have made up Taiwan since time immemorial, yet somehow it is she who is warning people against pretending to be God.
Blindly assume that whatever you assert human rights to be must therefore be human rights, then accuse those who disagree of being arrogant and judgmental. I’m saddened to see this kind of SJW demagoguery here in Taiwan, but on the marriage issue, it looks like the die is cast.
Check out my book Idiocy, Ltd. and begin the long, hard reckoning.