On Wednesday, the supreme court of Taiwan ruled on marriage equality, finding that the current laws limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples unconstitutional. The country's parliament has up to two years to modify the law. This could make Taiwan the first country in Asia to legalize equal marriage.
Activists in the country have been pushing for equal marriage for years, and progress has finally seemed possible in recent months. Chi Chia-wei began the fight for LGBTQ rights on the island when he came out as gay in the 1980s, at the end of Taiwan's period of martial law and authoritarian rule following the country's separation from mainland China. In February he told Quartz, "Look, Taiwan is a democracy, it has rule of law. We’re on the same path as the US, France, and the UK."
It turns out Chi was right. He is named as one of the main plaintiffs in the lawsuit, and is recognized by the court for his work over the past 30 years to legalize same-sex marriage. The court wrote that the legislature has moved to slowly in granting this right, but because "these petitions involve the protection of people’s fundamental rights," the time to act is now.
The court found that Taiwanese citizens "shall have their freedom to marry, which includes the freedom to decide 'whether to marry' and 'whom to marry.'" If the parliament does not respond in the two-year time period, the 14-judge panel said that the constitutional guarantees of equal protection would have to be applied:
If relevant laws are not amended or enacted within the said two years, two persons of the same sex who intend to create the said permanent union shall be allowed to have their marriage registration effectuated at the authorities in charge of household registration, by submitting a written document signed by two or more witnesses in accordance with the said Marriage Chapter.
Lisa Tassi, East Asia campaigns director at Amnesty International, reacted to the ruling, not only marking it as an important step for Taiwan, but also for the entire region.
The judges have today said yes to marriage equality. This is a huge step forward for LGBTI rights in Taiwan and will resonate across Asia ... As today’s ruling makes clear, whoever you love, everyone is entitled to the same human rights and equal protection under the law.
Tassi also pushed for the country's legislators to move quickly following the ruling so that these rights can be enjoyed as soon as possible. "Lawmakers must act swiftly to ensure Taiwan becomes the first in Asia to make genuine marriage equality a reality," she said in a statement.
What remains unclear is exactly what rights will come along with equal marriage if it is implemented by the legislature. One option, according to the BBC, is simply extending current legislation to all couples. That would include things like adoption, parental, and inheritance rights. But some activists fear that a separate law could be passed offering only some of the rights that opposite-sex couples receive, due to conservative and religious opposition.
Hopefully the Taiwanese parliament will follow President Tsai Ing-wen's support for equal marriage and pass a bill. As the court argues, the granting of fundamental rights should not be delayed.