I remember when I was talking to people about Taiwan, I would always say, “And they’re on track to be the first country in Asia to legalize marriage equality!” I was so excited. Taiwan was amazing to think about, a country with liberal social ideas in the heart of historically conservative East Asia. The pride parade here is 8 times bigger than the one in Philly. The legal framework for legalization is already in place.
This last midterm election, however, there were a series of referendum questions regarding the rights of LGBTQ+ citizens in Taiwan. These referendum questions have little legal weight, but are used to advise lawmakers on public opinion. The referendum questions are as follows:
- Do you agree that marriage defined in the Civil Code should be restricted to the union between one man and one woman? 72% in favor.
- Do you agree that the Ministry of Education should not implement the Enforcement Rules of the Gender Equality Education Act in elementary and middle schools? 67% in favor.
- Do you agree to the protection of the rights of same-sex couples in co-habitation on a permanent basis in ways other than changing of the Civil Code? 61% in favor
- Do you agree to the protection of same-sex marital rights with marriage as defined in the Civil Code? 67% opposed.
- Do you agree in accordance with the Gender Equality Education Act that national education of all levels should educate students on the importance of gender equality, emotional education, sex education, and same-sex education? 66% opposed.
In each of these polls, about 55% of registered voters responded.
These results are crazy to me. I didn’t expect so much of Taiwan to be so opposed to marriage equality. I’m taking a class, Women and Taiwanese Society, which covers feminist and LGBTQ+ issues. The day after the referendum, the professor said “I’m confused by the results. I didn’t expect this, but I hope our society can move towards acceptance.” My friends all messaged me after the results with varying amounts of anger//dismay.
This referendum vote was organized by Christians who represent only about 5% of the population; however, they advocated for a “Traditional Chinese family structure.” It’s strange, even here I see conservatism rooted in Christianity. Also strange to think about how here, these conservative Christians are a minority, but were able to mobilize the country to vote.
After the vote, I don’t feel unwelcome as a queer person in Taipei. I have immense privilege: I’m a white male living in a good neighborhood in a big city going to university. I definitely live in my own bubble of safety and confirmation bias. I’m able to be public about my sexuality in my daily life. I’ve yet to experience homophobia first hand here.
This vote helped me realize that my freedom is a bubble. There are queer people living on the other side of the bubble. People who can’t be open about who they are or who they love because they’re afraid that there’s a 67% chance the other person won’t approve. It’s our duty to break out of these bubbles and make sure that everyone, everywhere gets the respect they deserve. We have to be out and open and set a good example for the community. We need to be proud, even when faced with discrimination.