12/11/2013, 00.00
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Taipei leading the way among Chinese in gay marriage

by Xin Yage
Catholics and secularists are discussing a bill that would recognise a new kind of family, to include same-sex partners, common law couples and extended families. Terms would also change as "man" and "woman" would be replaced by "two parties", and "husband and wife" would be replaced by "spouses" or "companions".

Taipei (AsiaNews) - For more than two months, a bill to recognise gay rights and same-sex marriage has been hotly debated on the island-nation. Clearly, the aim is to adopt the first law of its kind in the Chinese-speaking world. "Taiwan," noted a Catholic, "is a window for Chinese people (中华 人) and the result of the current process will set an important precedent for legislation in other ethnically related countries."

On 30 November, a demonstration was held in the capital in support of the traditional family with more than 250,000 people present, this according to organisers and official sources. The event was sponsored by many groups, including representatives of Catholic organisations. Fr Louis Aldrich (艾立勤 神父), professor of moral theology at the Faculty of Theology at Fu Jen Catholic University in New Taipei (辅仁 大学) was among the participants.

For Fr Aldrich, "The great turnout shows that many people are conscious of the importance of stability in traditional family life. We are here to reaffirm simple concepts that even the Catholic Church defends with ease without any intention of discriminating against others. This is why we oppose the bill on its three points recognising the homosexual marriage, common law couples and the extension of marriage to more than two people. For us, this means reasserting what we have been promoting for years in the fields of education and catechesis, namely that there is nothing new. Based on the large turnout, we can see that we are not alone. We can see how numerous people who support these values ​​are. This is why we will continue our fight to reassert them."

To understand the demonstration's message, we must understand that on 25 October, a Taiwanese parliamentary committee began vetting a bill that would recognise same-sex relationships.

However, within the movement for the recognition of the rights of same-sex couples the situation is still very vague and unclear to say the least.

The bill takes a new approach to marriage and the family (多元 成家 草案), taking into consideration three types of relationship, i.e. same sex couples (同性 婚姻), legally protected couples (伴侣 制度), and a new, albeit dubious notion of the family (多人 家属) to include more than two people, as in a traditional marriage or civil union, as parties to a stable relationship.

The bill is expected to adopt terminological changes to designate couples: "husband and wife" (夫妻) will simply be "spouses" (双亲) or "companions" (配偶); "man and woman" (男女) would simply be the "two parties" (双方).

Once the bill reaches the legislature, it is subject to a process of three readings, the first of which was completed on 25 October with the acceptance of various proposals to be studied and discussed in the coming months.

"If everything goes very quickly, we shall probably proceed to the second reading within a year, but given the complexity of the matter, the many differences and strong opposition, it will be difficult for things to go very fast," said Professor Ning (宁 教授), an expert on the subject and a researcher at a university in New Taipei.

On the day after the first reading (26 October), various Catholic groups operating in Taiwan's dioceses took part in the morning in a training session for lay participants at the Archbishop's Palace in Taipei.

One part of the debate focused on the growing awareness of the rights of all disadvantaged people, with a special focus on the plight of gays and lesbians in a society that is tolerant but only up to a certain point. During the session, some requests were deemed outlandish, such as the demand to grant benefits to extended unions and not just couples.

On that same day but in the afternoon, Taiwan's 11th LGBT parade (台湾 同志 游行) was held (pictured). Turnout was similar to that of last year, with more than 65,000 people in attendance.

This year, more than ten music and dance shows were performed along the parade's route. "If at the beginning we were only trying to get greater exposure and visibility, now we want to see our rights recognised," said Meiyuan (美 远), a young activist and university student. "Our seven colours represent our rights, including the right not to be discriminated and the right to have our relationships recognised in law. We want to work together to make effective the rights of those who suffer from disadvantages in society."

Some of those who took part in the march praised the parliamentary initiative as the start of a new more open mind-set and legislative framework for non-heterosexuals but also all disadvantaged groups in society, in Taiwan and other Asian countries. Still, more radical voices could be heard, like a group of students whose spokesperson Chenyun (陈 筠) criticised legislators for being "too shy", demanding instead "a revolution with regards to marriage."

Elsewhere in the Chinese-speaking world, the Municipality of Beijing in the People's Republic of China has decided to recognise same-sex marriages and civil unions for immigrants as of 1 July 2013.

In China, the feisty scholar Li Yinhe (李银河) has tried to raise the issue of same-sex marriage at the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (人民 政协) since 2003. Known as an 'Amendment for marriage between people of the same sex' (中国 同性 婚姻 提案), her proposal has so far failed to reach the minimum number of support to get through parliament. Still, she remains undaunted and will continue her battle until the amendment is approved.

In Hong Kong, homosexuality was decriminalised in 1991, but no law has been passed to allow gay people to marry or form legal unions. Like in Beijing, civil unions and same-sex marriages among immigrants are recognised.

The debate in Taiwan is still very much open because the legislative process will be long and complicated, and will require dialogue and ability to focus on those who feel discriminated and want to make their voices heard in favour of or against the three parts of the proposed new law.

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See also
200,000-strong LGBT march
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Taiwan, the first country in Asia to legalise same-sex marriages
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Synod: Different opinions in Working Groups, but also agreement on need for pastoral care for families
Indian religious leaders tell the Supreme Court to say no to same-sex marriages
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