Voters in Taiwan have rejected same-sex marriage in a referendum, a setback to LGBT couples hoping their island will be the first country in Asia to let same-sex couples share child custody and insurance benefits.
The vote on Saturday, organised by Christian groups that make up about 5% of Taiwan’s population and advocates of the traditional Chinese family structure, contradicts a May 2017 constitutional court ruling. Justices told legislators then to make same-sex marriage legal within two years, a first for Asia, where religion and conservative governments normally keep the bans in place.
Although the ballot is advisory only, it is expected to frustrate lawmakers mindful of public opinion as they face the court deadline next year. Many legislators will stand for re-election in 2020.
“The legislature has lots of choices on how to make this court order take effect,” said referendum proponent Chen Ke, a Catholic pastor in Taiwan and an opponent of same-sex marriage.
Ruling party lawmakers backed by president Tsai Ing-wen had proposed legalising same-sex marriage in late 2016, but put aside their ideas to await the court hearing. Opposition to same-sex marriage crested*** after the court ruling. Opponents have held rallies and mobilised votes online.
Courts will still consider local marriage-licensing offices in violation of the law if they refuse same-sex couples until May 2019, a Ministry of Justice spokesperson said last week.
“The referendum is a general survey, it doesn’t have very strong legal implications,” said Shiau Hong-chi, a professor of gender studies and communications management at Shih-Hsin University in Taiwan. “One way or another it has to go back to the court.”
Voters approved a separate measure on Saturday calling for a “different process” to protect same-sex unions. It is viewed as an alternative to using the civil code. A third initiative, also approved, asked that schools avoid teaching LGBT “education”.
Amnesty International told the government it needed to “deliver equality and dignity”.
“This result is a bitter**** blow and a step backwards for human rights in Taiwan,” Amnesty’s Taiwan-based acting director, Annie Huang, said. “However, despite this setback, we remain confident that love and equality will ultimately prevail.”
Taiwanese also elected candidates from the China-friendly opposition Nationalist party to a majority of mayoral and county magistrate posts, reversing the party’s losses in 2014.
China welcomed the defeat of Taiwan’s pro-independence ruling Democratic Progressive party (DPP) at the local elections, saying it showed people wanted peaceful relations with Beijing.
The vote dealt a major blow to President Tsai Ing-wen’s hopes of re-election in 2020, forcing her to quit as DPP leader as the Beijing-friendly main opposition Kuomintang (KMT) made gains in the face of China’s increasing pressure on the island.