Who is Behind Taiwan’s Opposition to Same-Sex Marriage, and Why are They so Afraid?
For Taiwanese who emphasize “family values”, the call for marriage equality is suspicious. While Taiwan’s LGBT community was demanding an abolishment to article 227 of the criminal code, these family values-supporters were strongly opposing sexual liberation
By Ho Hsin-Jie
Translation by Jane Tien
This article originally appeared in the Initium on December 27th, 2016, and was translated and reposted with the permission of the author and publisher.
Outside Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan, thousands had gathered at a rally organized by the “Alliance for the Happiness of the Next Generation” or the “Happiness Alliance” (下一代幸福聯盟).
“Let the people decide what constitutes marriage and family,” the protesters shouted in unison. “Stop censorship, and give us a referendum!”
People aged 40 to 50 formed the majority of the crowd. When interviewed, many emphasized that they were ordinary citizens and are “not part of the Family Alliance.” The church isn’t opposed to same-sex marriage, “the citizens are,” they said.
“Citizens” had become the key word at the protest. “We are citizens!” said the host on the stage. “We are citizens!” said the emotional mothers protesting. “We are citizens!” said the Happiness Alliance’s media spokesperson. “Open the door for discussion, let the citizens in!”
The church as a political party and the faithful as citizens
Same-sex marriage in Taiwan became a widespread issue of discussion around the year 2000. One of the most well-known participants in this ongoing debate is the “Alliance of Taiwan Religious Groups for Family Protection” or the “Family Alliance” (台灣宗教團體愛護家庭大聯盟), a group with strong support from Christians, and founded in 2013.
The Family Alliance is only active in political demonstrations. However, the Faith and Hope League, or the FHL (信心希望聯盟), is a political party actively engaged in elections.
Established in 2015, the party used a veiled anti-same sex marriage platform of “defending families, and protecting children” to suss out potential public support. The FHL was founded by politicians and business people with Christian backgrounds, and is supported by religious institutions. The FHL strives to create a new image for themselves, in which the church becomes a political party, and church members become citizens.
During the 2016 election campaign period, the FHL’s “defending families, and protecting families” platform was extremely clear to its target voters, and the party was viewed as a vote for “protecting family values”.
According to voting results from Taiwan’s 2016 general elections, the FHL won the highest number of votes in New Taipei City’s Xindian and Banqiao districts, and Taipei’s Wenshan district. However, the FHL obtained the highest percentage of votes in Yanping Township, Taitung County, where 1 out 10 residents, or 10.33% of the county voted for the party.
The FHL may have gotten a boost in Yanping because one of it’s party-list candidates, Yilan Mingquinan, hails from the region. However, the FHL’s vote count ranged from 6 to 8% in other Taitung townships as well. Statistically speaking, Taitung County’s true “third force” after the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), is the FHL. During the 2016 campaign period, this reporter mostly saw election flags for the KMT, the DPP, and the FHL. Occasionally a flag for the New Power Party’s (NPP) Kawlo Iyun Pacidal could be seen.
Amid the wave of anti-same sex marriage demonstrations in 2016, it’s noteworthy to point out that Christian indigenous Taiwanese maintained such an active presence at events.
During a gathering hosted by the Happiness Alliance on December 26th 2016, an indigenous Taiwanese took the lead in singing a re-adaption of the classic song “We are Family.” Preferring to remain anonymous when interviewed, he said “neither the Japanese nor the KMT were successful in making us change who we call our mothers and fathers. But the DPP want to change that, and destroy our traditions! I can’t accept that!”
For a number of indigenous peoples (including church pastors who shoulder the burden of taking care of the community), the core issue of concern is the family unit entering into a state of incapacity due to long-term poverty. These pastors say they have witnessed parents suffer from alcoholism, divorce, occupational injuries or death, and domestic violence. Children are left uncared for, resulting in potential physical or mental issues.
In extraordinary situations likes these, social workers and churches can do little to repair the damage done by a broken family. It is no wonder that the slogan “upholding family values” has struck a chord with so much of Taiwan’s indigenous population.
For those concerned with “family values”, the motives for same-sex marriage is questionable. The Happiness Alliance’s website features an article that says “the gay movement’s push to legitimatize same-sex marriage is only the beginning. Arguments in support of same-sex marriage can also be used to support polygamy and bestiality. By generating sympathy from society, those who fight for same-sex marriage rights will eventually destroy the traditional concept of marriage.”
This is one of the fundamental difficulties for creating dialogue between the LGBT community and the anti-LGBT community: For the former, they are only fighting for the right of monogamous marriage, which would simultaneously protect family values. But for the latter, LGBT activism is disguising its true ambitions for “sexual liberation”, and would induce a landslide effect in which marriages break down and there is no one to care for the children.
Such anxieties are a growing concern for some indigenous Taiwanese communities, and for some Han Taiwanese families as well.
“I am not a Christian, just an ordinary Taiwanese person. Our ancestors gave us a system that unites a husband and a wife. I’m really not angry at homosexuals; sexual liberation is what I resent. What if my husband cheats on me? What if my kids learn a bunch of weird sexual knowledge when they come back from school? What should I do?” In the intervals of energetically shouting slogans, Ms. Pan from New Taipei City’s Yonghe district stresses that she does not want to “be cheated on,” and that is why she is against sexual liberation.
In addition, there were women who underwent traumatic experiences in their family life who had taken part in the December 26th anti-same sex marriage protest in Taipei (a protest that led protesters to scale the walls of the Legislative Yuan). With tears running down her face, a woman in her mid-40s from central Taiwan said: “I was the youngest girl in the family, so my parents gave me away. My foster father was very nice to me. He taught me to love others like loving yourself. So I want to tell the LGBT movement that family is important! You cannot ruin it!”
Transforming the family should be more constructive
Yeh Chung-Hsing (葉春幸), a legislative candidate for the FHL in Taichung City, has a similar story. Yeh’s mother gave birth to 10 girls, and she was the eldest. Her mother was unsuccessful in conceiving a son. In the end, Yeh’s father had an affair, her mother was diagnosed with epilepsy, and her sisters were given away.
During the election, members of the LGBT community criticized her on grounds of “discrimination and prejudice.” Yeh responded with an emotional open letter: “Those who understand me will know that I have studied the sufferings of the LGBT community and how they try to prove their worth in this patriarchal society. I have profound experiences of the fear and helplessness one must have felt in face of discrimination. That is why I sold my possessions and chose to stand with disadvantaged peoples to help them lead a dignified life.”
However, this “love” for the LGBT community can also be used against them. “When I found out that members of the LGBT community wanted to abolish article 227 of the Criminal Code, and with the controversy surrounding the ‘diversified family structure draft legislation’ spiralling out of control, I decided I need to speak out” wrote Yeh.
Huang Nai-yu (黃迺毓), a party-list candidate for the FHL, and a professor at National Taiwan Normal University’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies, expressed a similar view about “dysfunctional families”.
“I’ve witnessed many children separated from their parents from a young age. They try to break away every day. When they are denied emotional attachment, they mask themselves with indifference,” said Huang. “I know many people want to change family structures for a reason. However, it should take on a more constructive form.”
FHL candidate Lee Li-chuan (李莉娟), a retired high-ranking police officer, made similar comments. “When you catch the offenders of a shooting case, you ask what drove them to act the way they did. I found most offenders come from a broken family, and have a broken childhood.”
“Many families are already broken. Betrayals in marriages and dysfunctional families are everywhere. Should we legitimize these defects, or should we restore and protect them? I choose the latter. Many of my LGBT acquaintances do not believe in radical sexual rights. Who is truly thinking about the future of LGBT people after the parade is over?” said Yeh.
The message of ‘protecting the family’ resounded in Tseng Hsien-ying’s (曾獻瑩) campaign —the 2016 FHL candidate for Da’an district — as well.
Since marriage is the basis of the state, Tseng proposed the following solutions to make families a ‘mainstream choice’ again. “The state should invest in incentives that attract people to marry, such as marriage leave, death benefits, and birth subsidies. In this manner, the state can develop without depletion,” says Tseng.
He says many social problems stem from an inadequate ‘family system’, and they shake the very foundation of the state. “This is the exact problem Taiwan is facing right now. We have the lowest fertility rate in the world, yet we also have the third highest divorce rate and the highest population aging rate. Soon our population will resemble the shape of an inverted triangle with a crumbling annuity,” he adds.
“Why is it so important to guarantee marriage, but not important to guarantee other things like friendship? For example, if friendship is even more durable than marriage, do you need to go to court if you wish to break up with a friend? Why aren’t there death benefits if your best friend passed away, and why do marriages need death benefits?”
Tseng says the crucial difference lies in the public good that marriages bring forward. “Families provide social stability and endless labour resources. Families help young people get married. When they settle down, they become a productive member of the economy. This is a very realistic phenomenon,” he says.
Responding to the anxiety that same-sex marriage will lead to the downfall of families and marriages, DPP legislator Yu Mei-nu (尤美女) said, “The whole output of our social welfare depends on the family as a unit. Families are built on top of marriages. Without marriages, there is no way to enter a family, and you won’t be able to enjoy these rights.”
Yu emphasized that “as long as we correct the root problem and let same-sex couples marry, those who are willing to marry will be able to enjoy family rights and social welfare.”
In other words, on the basis of “families form the foundation of the state,” LGBT and anti-LGBT stances are perhaps not so unalike. What is absurd is that they arrive at completely different political conclusions from the mutual wish to “protect the family.”