Results of an opinion poll released on 28 November show a profound divide in Taiwanese society as 46.3% of respondents expressed their support for same-sex marriage, while 45.4% were against it.
In the wake of recent anti-gay marriage protests, the numbers serve to remind us that Taiwan, while being hailed as a beacon of gay rights in Asia, is still deeply entrenched in conservative values.
From 21 to 22 November, the Taiwan Public Opinion Foundation (台灣民意基金會) conducted a survey meant to analyze the public response to President Tsai Ying-wen’s government policies since she took office on 20 May. Amidst questions related to various political, economical and societal issues, the survey asked participants to state their position regarding same-sex marriage. The results, published on 28 November, show that 46.3% support the legalization of gay marriage, while 45.4% reject it.
Disparities were observed when it came to the respondents’ age and gender: more women than men expressed support for same-sex marriage (49.6% of women versus 42.8% of men) and people under 40 were also more likely to endorse it (64% of participants under 40 endorsed it, while 50% rejected it.)
The poll was based on telephone interviews conducted from 21 to 22 November with 1,070 people throughout Taiwan.
Chairman of the Taiwan Public Opinion Foundation You Yinlong (游盈隆) has summed up the results by stating that “both sides are evenly matched” and that there is currently “zero consensus” on the matter in Taiwanese society. According to him, the impact the legalization of same-sex marriage could have on society would be that of a “magnitude 10 earthquake”, and “the crack [would] penetrate every corner of social relations in Taiwan”. Taiwan, he believes, is not yet ready to bear such a shock.
Vice-chairman of the Kuomintang’s Committee of Culture and Transmission (文傳會副主委) Hu Wen-qi (琦表示) has commented on the survey, stating that while the Kuomintang fully supports the enactment of laws that safeguard the rights and interests of homosexuals, it is crucial that the government also listen to the popular will. He criticized politicians such as Yu Mei-nu – a staunch supporter of LGBT rights and one of the main instigators behind the current push towards legalization – for not taking the opinions of the Taiwanese into account.
(Why the general public should have a say in whether or not individuals get married hasn’t been explained.)
Of course, the divide showed by the poll must be put into perspective, as it was carried out with a sample population of 1,070. By contrast, the online poll carried out by the Ministry of Justice between August and October 2015 and answered by over 200,000 people found that 71% supported full marriage equality.
Nevertheless, it is certain that the acceptance of same-sex marriage in Taiwanese society still has a long way to go. While Taiwan has long been considered a beacon of gay rights in Asia, the recent anti-LGBT response to the movement for the legalization of same-sex marriage has shown that conservative family values are very much alive – and they are fighting back. On 17 November, thousands of protesters gathered around the Legislative Yuan building to voice their opposition to pro-gay marriage bills. All dressed in white, the protesters claimed to defend “traditional family values” and called for a national referendum on the issue. Their position stems from a mix of Confucian and Christian values. According to Confucianism, filial piety to mother and father are crucial. Not to mention having parents of both sexes would be very disturbing for children, protesters argue. Christian pastor Wang Tsu-zao has also stated that “only a heterosexual marriage can create the possibility of bearing children and only then can we sustain the nation’s next generation.”
As it happens, the latest opinion poll found that 52.2% believe heterosexual marriage is beneficial to society as it gives birth to future generations who will work for their country, while same-sex marriage ultimately doesn’t benefit society in the long-term. 40% of respondents disagreed with this statement.
Anti-gay marriage activists gathered again today at the Legislative Yuan where the Judiciary and Organic Laws and Statutes Committee was holding its second public hearing on the draft bills for same-sex marriage law. Those hearings were demanded by the activists who argued that Taiwanese society should have a say in the matter.
Huang Guochang (黃國昌) of the New Power Party (時代力量) invited protesters to the party’s headquarters in New Taipei City to meet “face to face” so as to have a clear dialogue about “Taiwan’s true values and what equity means in Taiwanese society.”
Anti-gay marriage activists weren’t the only ones present for the public hearing. Several LGBT rights groups along with prominent feminist group Awakening Foundation (婦女新知基金會) also gathered outside the Legislative Yuan building to express their views: the crowd chanted “Against a specialized law, we want equal rights, rewrite the Constitution, strive for equality !” (Fan zhuan fa, yao ping quan, xiu minfa, zheng pingdeng !)
The slogan refers to a controversy regarding the means of implementing same-sex marriage legalization. Two solutions are possible: creating a brand new marriage law geared specifically towards homosexuals (tongxing hunyinfa) or amending the Constitution. Indeed, the Constitution stipulates that marriage stems from the voluntary agreement of a man and a woman (nannü). Politicians and activists propose nannü simply be replaced with shuanfang (both sides). Creating an entirely new law, they argue, would set homosexuals as different and separate from “normal people” and actually exacerbate discrimination against them. Rewriting the law is the solution currently favored by most legislators, although some have expressed reservations. The DPP is notably divided on the issue, with Secretary-general Wu Bingrui (吳秉叡) asking for further discussions.
LGBT rights groups outside the Legislative Yuan claim their gathering has attracted thousands who came forth to demand the Constitution be rewritten.
Legislators are currently working on three different draft bills. If one is passed despite civil and political opposition, same-sex marriage could become legal in early 2017, making Taiwan a pioneer in Asia.