In May, Kaohsiung became the first city in Taiwan to register same-sex couples. Shortly afterward, Taipei, the capital, followed suit
Sitting in the third row of a small chapel, Liou wiped away tears of joy as her sister exchanged wedding vows with her new husband. A few feet away, Liou’s partner stood alone, maintaining their public charade of being just friends.
Liou — who asked that her full name not be disclosed because she had yet to come out as gay — said she would feel more comfortable holding her partner’s hand or embracing her in a society that did not view their way of life as out of the ordinary.
“If we could realize marriage equality in Taiwan, people in our situation could lead fuller lives,” she said.
That day could be coming soon, although it is not assured. Bills that would legalize same-sex marriage are moving through Taiwan’s legislative system, bringing the island closer to becoming the first place in Asia with marriage equality. Some predict it could happen early next year.
The political climate in Taiwan has never been more favorable. President Tsai Ing-wen, who took office in May, has spoken out in favor of same-sex marriage. Her Democratic Progressive Party, which is largely sympathetic to gay rights, holds the majority in the Legislative Yuan.
Some cities are already extending symbolic recognition of same-sex relationships. In May, Kaohsiung became the first city in Taiwan to register same-sex couples. Shortly afterward, Taipei, the capital, followed suit.
This month, Kaohsiung issued its first same-sex “partnership cards” to gay couples, and the Taipei city government announced it would soon do the same. The deputy director of the Kaohsiung civil affairs bureau, Chen Shu-fang, said the cards would make it easier to contact partners in emergencies and for hospitals to include partners in medical decisions.
In Asia, Taiwan is an island of relative acceptance for gays, lesbians and those of other sexual orientations. In some Asian countries, including Brunei, homosexual acts are illegal.
The governing Democratic Progressive Party, or DPP, the opposition Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang, and the smaller New Power Party have each proposed same-sex marriage bills. As of Friday, the bills were in the hands of a Legislative Yuan judiciary committee.
Taiwan has considered marriage equality before. Hsiao Bi-khim, a DPP legislator, submitted a same-sex marriage bill in 2005 that was blocked outright. In 2013, a bill reached the committee review stage but stalled. Now, Hsiao said, things are different.
“We have a much better chance this time around,” she said. If a bill comes to a vote in the Legislative Yuan, it will need the support of at least 57 of the body’s 113 lawmakers for passage. So far, Hsiao said, the bills have collectively received backing from 56 legislators.
All of the bills would legalize same-sex marriage and permit gay couples to adopt, said Yu Mei-nu, a legislator who submitted the DPP proposal. The author of the Kuomintang bills, Hsu Yu-jen, also cosigned the DPP draft, highlighting the momentum that marriage equality has gathered in both major parties, although some members of each party oppose it.
Public support for legalizing same-sex unions is robust, Yu said. She noted the large turnout last month for the 14th LGBT Pride Parade in Taipei, which attracted about 80,000 participants from Taiwan and around Asia.
Yu said that legalization had a good chance of passing in Taiwan’s next legislative session, from February through May. But if the proposal fails then, its chances in the session that follows — before the legislative elections in November 2018 — could be lower, she said, as the issue remains controversial.
“This is a golden opportunity,” Yu said. “But the opposition is strong.”
She noted that legislators who had initially signed on to the 2013 bill withdrew their support after being pressured by groups opposed to same-sex marriage.
On Thursday, thousands of people protesting legalization, dressed in white, occupied the street outside the judiciary committee proceedings in Taipei, denouncing what they called a “black box” in which the bills were being considered. They chanted demands for the legislature to hold public hearings on the issue, and some called for a plebiscite. Late Thursday, the legislative caucuses of the DPP and the Kuomintang agreed to each hold a hearing to air opinions on legalization before continuing deliberations.
Among the opposition is the Alliance of Religious Groups for the Love of Families Taiwan, which was formed to block the 2013 bill and is now focusing its attention on presenting its views to legislators.
“We don’t use the term ‘lobbying,'” Andrew Chang, the alliance’s secretary-general, said in an interview. “We’re going to explain in detail the social impacts, and they can make their own decision.”
Miao Poya, a gay-rights advocate, said, “Society on the whole has become more accepting” than it was a decade ago when patrons of gay clubs were often harassed by the police. “Support for marriage equality is especially strong among younger people.”