Taiwan legalizes same-sex marriage in historic first for Asia

Updated 4:07 PM EDT, Fri May 17, 2019
TAIPEI, TAIWAN - MAY 16: LGBT rights protesters demonstrate outside a parliamentary administration building where politicians are continuing to discuss same-sex marriage bills ahead of a vote on Friday, on May 16, 2019 in Taipei, Taiwan. Taiwan
TAIPEI, TAIWAN - MAY 16: LGBT rights protesters demonstrate outside a parliamentary administration building where politicians are continuing to discuss same-sex marriage bills ahead of a vote on Friday, on May 16, 2019 in Taipei, Taiwan. Taiwan's parliament on Tuesday began efforts to reconcile three competing bills on same-sex marriage that will determine how same-sex relationships are defined in the future. The conclusions reached during Tuesday's negotiations are expected to be put to a parliamentary vote on May 17. Implementation of the bill put forward by the executive branch of the government, or a failure to deliver a bill, would see Taiwan becoming the first country in Asia to legalise same-sex marriage. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Carl Court/Getty Images
Now playing
01:26
Taiwan passes same-sex marriage bill
Iraqi security forces keep guard the site of a suicide attack in Baghdad, Iraq January 21, 2021. REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani
Iraqi security forces keep guard the site of a suicide attack in Baghdad, Iraq January 21, 2021. REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani
PHOTO: Thaier al-Sudani/Reuters
Now playing
02:42
Dozens killed and hundreds injured in Baghdad suicide blasts
PHOTO: Policia Nacional via Reters
Now playing
00:53
See the aftermath of the Madrid explosion
WILMINGTON, DELAWARE - JANUARY 15:  U.S. President-elect Joe Biden speaks during day two of laying out his plan on combating the coronavirus at the Queen theater January 15, 2021 in Wilmington, Delaware. President-elect Biden is announcing his plan to administer COVID-19 vaccines to Americans.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WILMINGTON, DELAWARE - JANUARY 15: U.S. President-elect Joe Biden speaks during day two of laying out his plan on combating the coronavirus at the Queen theater January 15, 2021 in Wilmington, Delaware. President-elect Biden is announcing his plan to administer COVID-19 vaccines to Americans. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Alex Wong/Getty Images
Now playing
03:49
From Cuba to Delhi, CNN reporters on what Biden faces
PHOTO: Alexey Navalny
Now playing
02:35
Navalny urges his supporters to hit the streets
TOPSHOT - Russian President Vladimir Putin crosses himself as he plunges into the icy waters during the celebration of the Epiphany holiday in Moscow region on January 19, 2021. (Photo by Mikhail KLIMENTYEV / SPUTNIK / AFP) (Photo by MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Russian President Vladimir Putin crosses himself as he plunges into the icy waters during the celebration of the Epiphany holiday in Moscow region on January 19, 2021. (Photo by Mikhail KLIMENTYEV / SPUTNIK / AFP) (Photo by MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images)
PHOTO: MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/SPUTNIK/AFP/Getty Images
Now playing
00:36
See Putin take part in traditional icy Epiphany dip
guatemala honduras migrants tear gas Oppmann intl ldn vpx_00000604.png
guatemala honduras migrants tear gas Oppmann intl ldn vpx_00000604.png
PHOTO: CNNE
Now playing
01:30
Authorities use tear gas and batons against US-bound migrants
PHOTO: Getty Images
Now playing
04:21
Here's where the UK-US special relationship could go under Biden
PHOTO: Getty Images
Now playing
02:41
Alexey Navalny arrested on his return to Moscow
Now playing
02:23
Tropical activity poses threat in Southern Hemisphere
PHOTO: Indonesia Search and Rescue Agency
Now playing
02:09
Woman who is trapped underneath earthquake's rubble captured on video
Barrie
Barrie's aunt speaks about how the police brought her the news about the death of her nephew Ibrahima.
PHOTO: VTM
Now playing
01:26
Aunt of Black man who died after arrest in Belgium: We want justice
screengrab US social media
screengrab US social media
PHOTO: Getty Images
Now playing
04:35
Tech companies ban Trump, but not other problematic leaders
Now playing
01:23
Rejected Tintin cover breaks world record for comic book art
africa china coronavirus vaccine diplomacy lu stout pkg vpx _00025522.png
africa china coronavirus vaccine diplomacy lu stout pkg vpx _00025522.png
PHOTO: CCTV
Now playing
03:09
How China is hoping to use its vaccine as a diplomatic tool
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 13:  Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) presides over the vote to impeach U.S. President Donald Trump for the second time in little over a year in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol January 13, 2021 in Washington, DC. The House voted to impeach Trump on the charge of "incitement of insurrection," 232-197 after a mob of his supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol where Congress was working to certify the Electoral College victory of President-elect Joe Biden on January 6. 10 Republicans voted to impeach. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 13: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) presides over the vote to impeach U.S. President Donald Trump for the second time in little over a year in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol January 13, 2021 in Washington, DC. The House voted to impeach Trump on the charge of "incitement of insurrection," 232-197 after a mob of his supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol where Congress was working to certify the Electoral College victory of President-elect Joe Biden on January 6. 10 Republicans voted to impeach. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Now playing
02:35
How the world is reacting to Trump's second impeachment
(CNN) —  

Lawmakers in Taiwan have approved a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, a landmark decision that makes the self-ruled island the first place in Asia to pass gay marriage legislation.

The vote came almost two years after the island’s Constitutional Court ruled that the existing law – which said marriage was between a man and a woman – was unconstitutional. The panel of judges gave the island’s parliament two years to amend or enact new laws.

On Friday – only a week off the two-year deadline – lawmakers in Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan passed a bill making same-sex marriage a reality. It will go into effect on May 24.

Although the island has a large gay community and its annual gay pride parade is the biggest in Asia, the issue of marriage equality has bitterly divided Taiwanese society. In a controversial referendum in November last year, 67% voted to reject same-sex marriage.

In recent months conservative groups have campaigned against same-sex marriage reform, pushing for a law that would see gay marriages redefined as something closer to same-sex unions.

Tens of thousands of people braved pouring rain Friday to demonstrate in favor of same-sex marriage outside the parliament, as lawmakers began voting on three draft bills, one tabled by the island’s Cabinet – which would ultimately prove successful – and two watered-down rival bills tabled by conservative groups.

The successful Cabinet bill was the only one to use the word “marriage.” It was backed by LGBTQ groups, despite the fact it could see same-sex couples denied rights enjoyed by hetrosexual couples, such as adoption and cross-national marriage.

Wu Tzu-an, a 33-year-old gay artist from Taipei, was among the crowds outside the parliament celebrating Friday.

“Today the result was the best we got for this stage,” said Wu. “It’s also a sign to show that Taiwan was different from China,” he added, referring to mainland China where same-sex marriage has not been legalized. “Personally I don’t have plans to get married, but I think it’s a sign for equality.”

Xiaogang Wei, who heads the Beijing Gender Health Education Institute, called the bill’s passing a historic moment, not only for Asia but for the global LGBTQ rights movement.

“It will have a very positive impact on China’s LGBT community, offering us a lot of hope,” he told CNN.

“The Chinese government has pointed to cultural tradition as a reason for same-sex marriage being unsuitable in China. But the decision in Taiwan, which shares a cultural tradition with us, proves that Chinese culture can be open, diverse and progressive.”

After the vote, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen tweeted: “We took a big step towards true equality, and made Taiwan a better country.”

Longtime struggle

Friday’s decision has been a long time in the making.

In 2015, veteran gay rights activist Chi Chia-wei – who has spent 30 years fighting for marriage equality – filed a request to the Constitutional Court asking for a ruling on an article in the island’s civil code stating that marriage is between a man and a woman.

The Taipei city government filed a similar request the same year after three same-sex couples lodged an administrative lawsuit against the government when their marriage registrations were rejected, CNA reported.

In 2017, the court ruled the law violated the constitution.

Lawmakers were given a two-year deadline, but reached a deadlock. Taiwan’s gay marriage opponents seized the opportunity to put forward a referendum asking voters whether they agreed with same-sex marriage.

Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights executive director Victoria Hsu, who represented Chi during his case, said she expected attitudes towards LGBTQ people to improve after the bill as they would see that heterosexual families “wouldn’t lose anything.”

But Hsu – who plans to register her marriage with her partner of six years when the bill takes effect next Friday – said more still needed to be done to make LGBTQ people truly equal.

“The fight is not over, but we will continue from this brand-new start,” she added.

Amnesty International Taiwan’s acting director Annie Huang agreed, saying: “The Taiwanese government must not stop here. It needs to act to eliminate all forms of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identities and intersex status.”

LGBTQ rights in Asia

Taiwan’s vote sets it apart from other parts of Asia where LGBTQ rights have regressed.

In mainland China, where homosexuality is legal but prejudices and discrimination against LGBT people persist under Communist Party rule, an author of same-sex erotic fiction was sent to jail for 10 years in November.

In April, the ruler of the tiny, oil-rich kingdom of Brunei announced he would introduce death by stoning for those convicted of gay sex. Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah has since said the death penalty will not be imposed, although he did not repeal the law.

In Indonesia, declining secularism has led to deepening discrimination against the country’s gay, lesbian and transgender communities. Last year, two men accused of being gay received 87 lashes for gay sex in the country’s conservative Aceh province.

More than two dozen countries around the world allow gay marriage, according to Pew Research.

Update: This story has been updated to reflect Taiwan’s status

CNN’s Steven Jiang in Beijing contributed to this report.