Has President Tsai Forgotten about Marriage Equality? Perhaps Marriage Isn’t the Only Solution to LGBT Rights in Taiwan
Writer Fan Kanghao says that LGBT advocacy should not be limited to fighting for marriage equality laws.
By Fan Kanghao (范綱皓)
Translation by Tiffany Kao
This article first appeared in Womany on January 26th, 2016. This article was translated and reposted with permission from the author and publisher.
In 2016, Taiwan experienced its third party alternation when the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) once again took power. This is also the first time a woman was elected president, with a historic number of female legislators also elected (37.2% of total legislators in Taiwan’s congress are women). As Taiwan enters new political territory, there are high hopes that Taiwan’s new government can bring about a more gender-friendly political environment.
But having more women in government is not a guarantee of more progressive policies.
During the 2016 campaign period, the DPP failed to issue concrete gender-focused policies. The absence of further commitments generated collective anxiety within the LGBT community, and sowed seeds of distrust.
When the first legislative session of 2016 commenced, the DPP caucus made a list of their priority bills. Cross-strait relations, people’s livelihoods, and economic policies were key issues for the DPP, while marriage equality and other LGBT rights issues were nowhere to be seen.
The policy announcements infuriated prominent LGBT rights supporters in Taiwan. Long-time advocate and actress Ding Ning (丁寧) took the lead in voicing her displeasure towards the DPP. “Don’t go disappointing us right from the beginning,” she wrote on her Facebook.
Is it Really so Disappointing that Gay Rights aren’t Priority Bills for the New Government?
However, a country’s annual budget is a zero-sum game. When one group is allocated more of the budget, another group sees less of it. Who would accept that? One solution would be borrowing and raising the total limit of a country’s budget. Then again, Taiwan has been suffering from years of fiscal deficit. Do we really want to continue to borrow?
I believe that the bills focusing on cross-straits relations, people’s livelihood, and economy are very important. I completely understand that every group believes that their issue is the most important issue and should be listed as a priority.
The LGBT community certainly thinks that rights issues are important. When the new Legislative Yuan session (Taiwan’s congress) left out gay marriage as a priority bill, members of the LBGT community couldn’t help but feel “how much longer do we have to wait before we can get married?”
As a gay person, you can only place all of your attention on gay marriage. As a political party, or a politician, or as a legislator that speaks for a district, he or she has to pay attention to all groups and issues (including disadvantaged groups).
Whether a bill is prioritized or not should not be the only thing we care about. “Priority bills” are not equal to “bills that will definitely pass,” while a bill “not listed as a priority” does not mean it is not important.
More importantly, a bill that is not a priority for a party caucus, may very well be a priority bill for certain legislators. DPP Legislator Yu Mei-nu (尤美女) is a long-time supporter of gender and LGBT issues, and she hopes to pass a marriage equality bill in the near future. The backing force for an individual legislator is public support. We shouldn’t be agitated, but organize.
Reform is not a one-step process. It’s also impossible without public supervision. Elections aren’t about inviting people to dinner, and democracy isn’t simply about voting. As citizens, we hold the responsibility to help reform our country and society. We also have the responsibility to oversee our government’s effort in governance. As for politics, politicians should not expect everyone to understand the difficulty of governance as long as they work hard and don’t complain.
Gay marriage has already become a politically correct issue in Taiwan. In the near future, members of the LGBT community will certainly fulfill their dreams of getting married. However, with this opportunity, I want to express what I’m truly disappointed about.
The First Disappointment: Gay rights is not limited to gay marriage
The 1960s was a golden age for the US civil rights’ movement. 1969 marked the Stone Wall incident in New York City, and was the first opposition movement initiated by the US gay community. It was also a critical moment for the global gay rights’ movement.
Marsha P. Johnson, a black drag queen, fired the first shot in the resistance. All revolutions are ignited in the same fashion. Once an initiator makes the first move, the discontent and fear of the oppressed will burst out into violent struggle.
While the gay rights movements in Taiwan has not been as violent or intense, they share similarities in being launched by marginalized people.
Gay men who lingered around Stone Wall and Christopher Street, were the marginalized of the marginalized. They were gay African-American men, destitute gay men, trans-gender people, and gay men who survived on prostitution.
Similarly, prostitution-support groups that cared for AIDS victims and members of the transgender community were some of the first people to take to the streets in Taipei.
But do people know that incidents like Stone Wall still happen in Taipei today? Aniki Sauna is a space where gay men come to socialize. But since 2014, it’s been intensely raided by the police every single month.
In Taiwan’s gay community, I only see people cutting ties and condemning each other. I don’t see any effort being made to urge the state to thoroughly discuss and reflect on the relationship between drugs, the sex industry, and LGBT rights. During Taipei’s Pride Parade, we see “love” and “physical beauty”, but we don’t see the integrity exhibited by the human rights activists of ages past. Most importantly, the spirit of criticizing society and showing solidarity with the weak is forgotten.
The Second Disappointment: Why does the ideal family type for Taiwan’s LGBT community have to be the same as straight people?
When gay marriage is being packaged as “marriage equality,” people become inclined to a single discourse, that is, “marriage is a civil right that everyone is supposed to have.” The LGBT community’s fight for marriage rights is a way to show this equality. This logic is easy to understand and convey, but it’s also seen as an over-simplification of the issue.
First of all, we should make sure whether the LGBT community is seeking “stable and intimate relationships like marriage,” or does it seek “civil rights—such as medical visitation rights, tax return benefits, and inheritance rights—that our country guarantees?”
In other words, is it unfair that our country does not let everyone have “stable and intimate relationships”, or is it unfair that our country does not provide everyone with “equal rights”?
The problem should be the latter. Marriage is only a certain form of intimate relationship, but it is definitely not the only one. The rights and welfare that a state provides should not differ from group to group. Similarly, rights and welfare do not necessarily have to be provided through marriage.
On this account, the “partner system” is acceptable (regardless of which version is being proposed by legislators). Through the partner system, the rights and welfare enjoyed by heterosexuals can be extended to everyone, and is not dependent on a person’s gender or sexual orientation. This could complete the construction of equal rights in Taiwan.
But the partner system was condemned as discriminatory by Taiwan’s LGBT community as soon as it was floated by the government. Many people believe that if Taiwan wants real equality, we should let everyone get married.
My viewpoint is simple. We fix wherever there is inequality. The rights provided by the state should not differ based on one’s gender or sexual orientation.
As for how people should bond with their significant other, that doesn’t matter. Moreover, the act of marriage has always been in accordance with how heterosexual couples behave. How gay couples get along with one another, what kind of intimate relationships they have, and how they envision their families has never been the same as heterosexuals.
Furthermore, the partner system was never established specifically for gay people, but for everyone. In the ever-changing era of globalization, “marriage” is undoubtedly the most conservative form of intimate relations.
I believe that pursuing a more flexible partner system or family system is a way to respond to the needs of Taiwan’s aging society. The actual content said systems can be further discussed. The best way could be to adopt both systems at the same time.
For Taiwan’s equal rights movement, it’s disappointing that we’ve never carefully contemplated what kind of intimate relationships we want. Is marriage the only way to pursue true love?
We’ve also never discussed whether it is time to adjust our notions of “family” when facing new future social development. Marriage, in the past, was equal to forming a family. But today, there are many forms of family. The most common form today, is several unmarried friends taking care of each other, and growing old together. Should our country protect such a family as well?
Let’s stop limiting ourselves in our thinking of marriage equality. It isn’t too late for us to start thinking and discussing, is it?