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Same-sex Marriage Referendum Gets Rejected in Taiwan

"This result is a bitter blow and a step backwards for human rights in Taiwan,"

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Taiwan
Participants pull a rainbow tarpaulin through the gay and lesbian parade in Taipei, Taiwan, Oct. 28, 2017. Voters reject legalizing same-sex unions in a referendum, Nov. 24, 2018. VOA
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Voters in Taiwan passed a referendum asking that marriage be restricted to one man and one woman, a setback to LGBT couples hoping their island will be the first place in Asia to let same-sex couples share child custody and insurance benefits.

The vote on Saturday, organized by Christian groups that make up about 5 percent of Taiwan’s population and advocates of the traditional Chinese family structure, goes against a May 2017 Constitutional Court ruling. Justices told legislators then to make same-sex marriage legal within two years, a first for Asia where religion and conservative governments normally keep the bans in place.

Although the ballot initiative is advisory only, it is expected to frustrate lawmakers mindful of public opinion as they face the court deadline next year. Many legislators will stand for re-election in 2020.

Marriage, taiwan
Lin Chinxuan, right, holds a reflector as Austin Haung, 32, photographs Kao Shaochun, left, and John Sugden during their pre-wedding photoshoot in Taipei, Taiwan, Nov. 11, 2018. Chinxuan and Haung are a couple and together they run Hiwow studio photographing LGBTQ couples. VOA

“The legislature has lots of choices on how to make this court order take effect,” said referendum proponent Chen Ke, a Catholic pastor in Taiwan and an opponent of same-sex marriage.

Ruling party lawmakers backed by President Tsai Ing-wen had proposed legalizing same-sex marriage in late 2016, but put their ideas aside to await the court hearing.

Opposition to same-sex marriage crested after the court ruling. Opponents have held rallies and mobilized votes online.

Courts will still consider local marriage licensing offices in violation of the law by May 2019, if they refuse same-sex couples, a Ministry of Justice spokesperson said last week.

pride flag, taiwan
The rainbow pride flag of the LGBT community. wikimedia

“The referendum is a general survey, it doesn’t have very strong legal implications,” said Shiau Hong-chi, professor of gender studies and communications management at Shih-Hsin University in Taiwan. “One way or another it has to go back to the court.”

Voters approved a separate measure Saturday calling for a “different process” to protect same-sex unions. It’s viewed as an alternative to using the civil code. A third initiative, also approved, asked that schools avoid teaching LGBT “education.”

Amnesty International told the government it needs to “deliver equality and dignity.”

Also Read: Law Legalising Same-sex Marriage Causes Grudges Between Families in Taiwan

“This result is a bitter blow and a step backwards for human rights in Taiwan,” Amnesty’s Taiwan-based Acting Director Annie Huang said. “However, despite this setback, we remain confident that love and equality will ultimately prevail.”

Taiwanese also elected candidates from the China-friendly opposition Nationalist Party to a majority of mayoral and county magistrate posts, reversing the party’s losses in 2014. (VOA)

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Almost 200 Countries Agree On Rules to Curb Global Warming

Countries also agreed to consider the issue of raising ambitions at a U.N. summit in New York next September. 

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Climate Talks, Global Warming
Heads of the delegations react at the end of the final session of the COP24 summit on climate change in Katowice, Poland. VOA

After two weeks of bruising negotiations, officials from almost 200 countries agreed Saturday on universal, transparent rules that will govern efforts to cut emissions and curb global warming. Fierce disagreements on two other climate issues were kicked down the road for a year to help bridge a chasm of opinions on the best solutions.

The deal agreed upon at U.N. climate talks in Poland enables countries to put into action the principles in the 2015 Paris climate accord.

“Through this package, you have made a thousand little steps forward together,” said Michal Kurtyka, a senior Polish official chairing the talks.

He said while each individual country would likely find some parts of the agreement it didn’t like, efforts had been made to balance the interests of all parties.

“We will all have to give in order to gain,” he said. “We will all have to be courageous to look into the future and make yet another step for the sake of humanity.”

United Nations, Global warming
Participants take part in plenary session during COP24 U.N. Climate Change Conference 2018 in Katowice, Poland. VOA

The talks in Poland took place against a backdrop of growing concern among scientists that global warming on Earth is proceeding faster than governments are responding to it. Last month, a study found that global warming will worsen disasters such as the deadly California wildfires and the powerful hurricanes that have hit the United States this year.

Overhaul of the global economy

And a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, concluded that while it’s possible to cap global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century compared with pre-industrial times, this would require a dramatic overhaul of the global economy, including a shift away from fossil fuels.

Alarmed by efforts to include this in the final text of the meeting, oil-exporting nations the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait blocked an endorsement of the IPCC report midway through this month’s talks in Katowice. That prompted an uproar from vulnerable countries like small island nations and environmental groups.

Climate Talks, Global warming
A worker dismantles the exhibition pavilion of Austria as the U.N. climate conference drew to a close in Katowice, Poland. VOA

The final text at the U.N. talks omits a previous reference to specific reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, and merely welcomes the “timely completion” of the IPCC report, not its conclusions.

Last-minute snags forced negotiators in Katowice to go into extra time, after Friday’s scheduled end of the conference had passed without a deal.

One major sticking point was how to create a functioning market in carbon credits. Economists believe that an international trading system could be an effective way to drive down greenhouse gas emissions and raise large amounts of money for measures to curb global warming.

But Brazil wanted to keep the piles of carbon credits it had amassed under an old system that developed countries say wasn’t credible or transparent.

Push from U.S. 

Among those that pushed back hardest was the United States, despite President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord and promote the use of coal.

Climate Talks, global warming
COP24 President Michal Kurtyka speaks during the opening of the COP24 U.N. Climate Change Conference 2018 in Katowice, Poland. VOA

“Overall, the U.S. role here has been somewhat schizophrenic — pushing coal and dissing science on the one hand, but also working hard in the room for strong transparency rules,” said Elliot Diringer of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, a Washington think tank.

When it came to closing potential loopholes that could allow countries to dodge their commitments to cut emissions, “the U.S. pushed harder than nearly anyone else for transparency rules that put all countries under the same system, and it’s largely succeeded.”

“Transparency is vital to U.S. interests,” added Nathaniel Keohane, a climate policy expert at the Environmental Defense Fund. He noted that the breakthrough in the 2015 Paris talks happened only after the U.S. and China agreed on a common framework for transparency.

“In Katowice, the U.S. negotiators have played a central role in the talks, helping to broker an outcome that is true to the Paris vision of a common transparency framework for all countries that also provides flexibility for those that need it,” said Keohane, calling the agreement “a vital step forward in realizing the promise of the Paris accord.”

Climate Talks, global warming
Polish teenagers stage a protest in the U.N. climate conference venue on the last days of talks to urge negotiators from almost 200 countries to reach an agreement on ways of keeping global warming in check, in Katowice, Poland, Dec. 14, 2018. VOA

Among the key achievements in Katowice was an agreement on how countries should report their greenhouses gas emissions and the efforts they’re taking to reduce them. Poor countries also secured assurances on getting financial support to help them cut emissions, adapt to inevitable changes such as sea level rises and pay for damages that have already happened.

Some not hearing alarms

“The majority of the rulebook for the Paris Agreement has been created, which is something to be thankful for,” said Mohamed Adow, a climate policy expert at Christian Aid. “But the fact countries had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the finish line shows that some nations have not woken up to the urgent call of the IPCC report” on the dire consequences of global warming.

But a central feature of the Paris Agreement — the idea that countries will ratchet up their efforts to fight global warming over time — still needs to be proved effective, he said.

“To bend the emissions curve, we now need all countries to deliver these revised plans at the special U.N. secretary-general summit in 2019. It’s vital that they do so,” Adow said.

United Nations, global warming
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses during the opening of COP24 UN Climate Change Conference 2018 in Katowice, Poland, Dec. 3, 2018. VOA

In the end, a decision on the mechanics of an emissions trading system was postponed to next year’s meeting. Countries also agreed to consider the issue of raising ambitions at a U.N. summit in New York next September.

Also Read: Green Groups In Brazil Prepare A Climate Change Plan

Speaking hours before the final gavel, Canada’s Environment Minister Catherine McKenna suggested there was no alternative to such meetings if countries want to tackle global problems, especially at a time when multilateral diplomacy is under pressure from nationalism.

“The world has changed, the political landscape has changed,” she told The Associated Press. “Still, you’re seeing here that we’re able to make progress, we’re able to discuss the issues, we’re able to come to solutions.” (VOA)