Taiwan gets ready to become the first Asian country to say 'I do' to marriage equality

Public sentiment, already in favour of same-sex marriage, has been galvanised after the death of a well-known artist

Taiwan gets ready to become the first Asian country to say 'I do' to marriage equality

Thousands took to the streets in support of gay pride in Taiwan on Saturday. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)

While the thirty-fourth amendment to the constitution allowed all of the 4.6m people living in Ireland to marry the person they love, regardless of their gender, the 4bn people who live across Asia are lagging behind. No country in the most populated part of the world has enacted laws to allow LGBT men and women to wed. But Taiwan, long considered one of the most liberal countries in Asia, appears to be on the cusp of introducing same-sex marriage, with the public rallying after the death of a well-known artist and university lecturer.

Over the weekend, more than 80,000 people paraded through the streets of Taipei, taking part in the capital’s 14th annual pride march, with attendees describing the rain-soaked event as electrified by a sense of hope they’d never felt before.

Last month, Taiwan’s new justice minister, named under the Democratic Progressive Party’s newly-formed government, introduced a bill that would legalise same-sex marriage by removing references to gender from the Taiwanese constitution. The country’s president, Tsai Ing-Wen, has repeatedly shown support for LGBT rights and she posted a 15-second video on her Facebook page openly supporting marriage equality.

Recent polls have also indicated that 75% of Taiwanese people support same-sex marriage, although pundits believe that the national mood was galvanised by the death of a French professor on October 16th.

Jacques Picoux, 67, fell 10 floors to his death and is believed to have died by suicide. Picoux’s partner of 35 years had lost his battle to cancer a year earlier, and Picoux was unable to make decisions for his treatment because they were unmarried. Picoux was also unable to legally claim the property the two had shared during their long relationship together.

According to activist groups, Taiwan has never been closer to the landmark legal ruling. “We actually see that there are about 66 legislators who will probably vote yes on marriage equality,” Cindy Su, of Pride Watch, told The Guardian. “That’s a majority of 58.4%, the first time in Taiwanese history have we have more than half.”

Tsai Ing-Wen and the DPP were elected after decades of governments formed by the Kuomintang, a conservative party that opposed same-sex marriage. Introduction of marriage equality would not only represent the changing face of the increasingly liberal country, but also send a message to China, which continues to claim Taiwan. Tsai was elected on a platform of strengthening the island’s autonomy from China.

According to the justice minister, the marriage-equality bill could come into law in the early months of 2017. The day after the draft was published, the ashes of Picoux and his partner, Tseng Ching-Chao, were scattered by friends into the sea.

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