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First Same-Sex Couple Ties Knot in Taiwan

Taiwan’s parliament passed a bill last week that endorsed same-sex marriage

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Gay and lesbian newlyweds kiss at a same-sex marriage party after registering their marriages in Taipei, Taiwan, May 24, 2019. VOA

Same-sex couples tied the knot in emotional scenes in Taiwan on Friday, the first legal marriages in Asia hailed by activists as a social revolution for the region. Taiwan’s parliament passed a bill last week that endorsed same-sex marriage.

More than 160 same-sex couples married Friday, according to government data, after years of heated debate over marriage equality that has divided the self-ruled and democratic island.

Twenty couples queued to tie the knot at a marriage registration office in downtown Taipei, where rainbow flags were on display alongside stacks of government-issued, rainbow-themed registration forms.

“I feel very lucky that I can say this out loud to everyone: I am gay and I am getting married,” said Shane Lin, a 31-year-old baker who with his partner were the first couple to register in the Taipei office. “I am extremely proud of my country Taiwan,” said a tearful Lin.

The euphoria and emotion among the island’s gay community was on display as newly-wed couples walked down a rainbow-colored carpet in a nearby park, watched by families and friends as well as diplomats and reporters.

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Gay newlyweds walk on a giant rainbow flag at a same-sex marriage party after registering their marriage in Taipei, Taiwan, May 24, 2019. VOA

‘The right we deserved’

Chi Chia-wei, an activist who brought a case to Taiwan’s constitutional court that led to a landmark court ruling on same-sex marriage in 2017, congratulated the couples.

“This is the right that we deserved from a long time ago,” he said, draped in a giant rainbow flag that symbolizes the colors of the international gay movement.

“As a beacon in Asia, I hope Taiwan’s democracy and human rights could have a ripple effect on other countries in Asia,” he added.

Supporters also celebrated on social media, sharing posts with the rainbow colors of the gay rights movement.

Friday’s celebration followed a years-long tussle over marriage equality that culminated in the 2017 declaration by the constitutional court giving same-sex couples the right to marry, and setting a deadline of May 24 for legislation.

Marriage equality was backed by the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), but the measure could complicate President Tsai Ing-wen’s bid for a second term in elections next year.

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Gay couple Cynical Chick, left, and Li Ying-Chien display the wedding certificate at the Household Registration Office in Shinyi district in Taipei, May 24, 2019. VOA

Conservative groups that oppose same-sex marriage said the legislation disrespected the people’s will.

Same-sex marriage is not recognized by Hong Kong and neighboring China, which regards Taiwan as a wayward province to be returned to the fold by force, if necessary.

It marks another milestone in Taiwan’s development as one of the region’s more liberal societies, in contrast with China’s strongly autocratic government.

ALSO READ: Taiwan’s Parliament Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage, Mass Weddings Planned

Across the strait, many Chinese congratulated Taiwan’s newlywed same-sex couples on platforms such as Weibo, China’s version of Twitter.

“For once I thought the legalization of same-sex marriage in Taiwan would impact on the Chinese government, making them heed our appeals,” one Weibo user said. “But then I found the shock actually makes the government more scared, stepping up their crackdown on us.” (VOA)

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Here’s Why China Cut Off Travel Permits for Tourists Going to Taiwan

Suspending the travel permits lets China remind Taiwan of its economic clout, some analysts say

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Chinese tourists would get close to Taiwan's political heat. Wikimedia Commons

China’s decision last week to stop issuing permits for independent tourists to Taiwan applies new economic pressure to their already strained relations, and analysts see three underlying reasons behind Beijing’s move.

Beijing’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism cited the “current mainland China-Taiwan relations” as cause to stop permitting indie travelers after about a decade. China regards self-ruled Taiwan as part of its territory rather than a state, but Taiwan prefers at least today’s level autonomy over the Chinese goal of unification. That schism has caused the two sides to chafe for 70 years.

Here are three reasons China cut off travel permits:

Taiwan’s president opposes China despite earlier pressure to get along.

Suspending the travel permits lets China remind Taiwan of its economic clout, some analysts say.

The permit shutdown ends a process that generated on average more than 82,000 arrivals per month last year, which boosted the island’s service economy.

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Despite the military and diplomatic pressure, the government in Taipei openly opposes rule by China. VOA

Since 2016, China has flown military aircraft near Taiwan and persuaded five Taiwanese diplomatic allies to switch their allegiance from Taipei to Beijing. The Communist leadership hopes to pressure Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s government to bargain with China as her predecessor did — on the condition that acknowledges both sides are considered part of the same country.

Despite the military and diplomatic pressure, the government in Taipei openly opposes rule by China. Tsai in January condemned the “one country, two systems” idea that Chinese President Xi Jinping had proposed then as a way to rule Taiwan.

China is “more than furious” that Tsai openly backs anti-Beijing protesters who have taken to the streets in Hong Kong since June, said Sean King, vice president of the Park Strategies political consultancy in New York.

China upped its warnings by calling off Taiwan-bound independent travel, said Liang Kuo-yuan, president of the Taipei research organization Polaris Research Institute. “The headline news will create some psychological effects,” Liang said. “I believe their motivation should be that mainland China wants to say ‘as well as using military threats we can also hold you back economically.’”

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Suspending the travel permits lets China remind Taiwan of its economic clout, some analysts say. Wikimedia Commons

Taiwan’s president faces a tough reelection bid in 2020. China hopes the tourism suspension will remind Taiwanese that “there are riches to be had” if they reject Tsai’s reelection bid in January, King said.

Tsai is running against Han Kuo-yu, a mayor who supports opening talks with China to bolster economic and investment ties. His party, when in power from 2008 to 2016, accepted Beijing’s condition that each side see itself as part of China for negotiation purposes. The two governments inked 23 deals.

Tsai rejects the one-China condition, and China cut off talks after she took office. China hopes the cut in travel permits will addle the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, said Yun Sun, East Asia Program senior associate at the Stimson Center think tank in Washington.

Hotels near tourist hotspots will take the biggest hit from the loss of self-guided tourists, though many had expected business to taper due to the decline in political relations, said Peter Lin, chief executive officer of the Topology Travel Agency in Taipei. Losses from the travel suspension are estimated at about $1 billion per year.

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Independent travel permits had been suspended because of increasing “risks” for travelers before the election. Wikimedia Commons

“The Chinese do want to show that DPP [Democratic Progressive Party] is not doing good things and want to punish the DPP,” Sun said. “They want to squeeze the election, and tourism is a very convenient channel. The tourism industry in Taiwan will be hit pretty hard.”

Chinese tourists would get close to Taiwan’s political heat. China’s official television network said on its Weibo social media website Wednesday that independent travel permits had been suspended because of increasing “risks” for travelers before the election.

ALSO READ: Uganda Begins Largest-Ever Ebola Vaccine Trial to Prevent Disease from Speading

Beijing frets about its tourists being drawn to Taiwan’s democratic institutions including its unfettered mass media, King said. Relations with China are shaping up as a core presidential campaign issue with daily media coverage.

“There’s the incidental bonus for Beijing of having fewer of its citizens exposed to the island’s vigorously open political culture,” King said. “This fact cannot be overlooked, especially given the protests in Hong Kong, uncensored coverage of which mainland visitors get to see on their Taiwan hotel television screens.” (VOA)