After the Constitutional Court of Taiwan held on May 24 that the country’s current law stating that same sex couples cannot get married under the Civil Code is unconstitutional, Taiwan became the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage. As the main coordinator of the Marriage Equality Coalition and a long-term social activist, I believe the marriage equality movement reflects how, moving forward, the younger generation of Taiwanese people wants to participate more in public discussions to shape Taiwanese society according to their values.
While I was traveling in the United States, I was asked by many people what social and political conditions made it possible for Taiwan to become the first country in Asia to legalize same sex marriage. Along with the depth and stability of Taiwanese democracy, which empowers its citizens to make change, I argue that Taiwan’s maturing civil society is also an important factor. Taiwan’s support of gender equality movements in recent years, manifested in the Gender Equity Education Act（性別平等教育法), and the value placed on diversity in Taiwanese culture have raised Taiwan’s visibility on the global stage in terms of LGBTQ rights. In addition to the legal interpretation issued by the justices, all of the aforementioned factors are indispensable conditions that made May 24 possible.
Since the Sunflower Student Movement in 2014, the younger generation’s involvement in civil society has contributed to significant changes in political and civil fields in recent years. Discussions about public issues or participation in relevant movements have become a daily activity for young people. The idea that “we have to fight for our own rights” means that democracy does not only happen on election days but requires day-to-day effort. The issue of marriage equality has shown that the traditional political fault lines within Taiwanese society do not categorically prevent cooperation between the political parties on various social issues.
The KMT and the DPP have historically been diametrically opposed. Yet, for the Marriage Equality Bill—passed by committee in the Legislative Yuan (LY) last year—two KMT legislators worked in tandem with DPP legislators; all of them are also working with the NPP to send the Marriage Equality bill out of the Judiciary and Organic Laws and Statutes Committee（司法法制委員會). Unavoidably, there are still political struggles between the three parties, but they tried to cooperate on this point to convince senior legislators in their parties to support the bill. For the Marriage Equality Bill, the main dispute was not between different political parties, but generations. Cross-party collaboration was thus a critical factor for its success.
On the other hand, traditionally divisive issues such as “Taiwan independence” or the sovereignty issue have also been widely discussed in Taiwanese society in recent years. A growing consensus is emerging among the younger generation. The reasons why such opinions may be more commonly shared by young people include: long-term public discussions and education, the growing power of China, and the pace of change initiated by the PRC-friendly conciliatory policies of former president Ma Ying-Jeou. These have resulted in the awareness of resistance among members of the younger generation, and have further inspired the recognition of Taiwan’s independent sovereignty. The generation born after 1987—when martial law was lifted and the democratic movement grew quickly—have always lived in a society with freedom of speech. This generation has a strong passion to participate in civil society efforts to make Taiwan freer, more liberal, and more aware of the importance of diversity in a democracy. Those who show their support, passion, and desire to change by participating in numerous events and marches are the key to this campaign.
Taiwan’s efforts on behalf of marriage equality have proven to the world that Taiwan has a mature democracy, an independent judicial system, and a thriving civil society that is capable of including diverse cultures. Only when international awareness of Taiwan becomes more three-dimensional, and as we continue to emphasize democracy, human rights and shared values will our image in international society finally be differentiated from China’s, making us able to chart a new path.
The main point: The progressive milestone provided by the marriage equality movement’s victory in Taiwan has been propelled by the younger generation. They have a strong motivation to participate in civil society efforts to make Taiwan freer, more liberal, and more aware of the the importance of diversity in a democracy. Sharing the same values of freedom, liberal democracy, and human rights not only can demonstrate the sovereignty of Taiwan, but can also construct a clearer image for Taiwan internationally.