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Gay man vows not to give up fight for same-sex marriage rights (update)

2012/12/20 20:18:11

Taipei, Dec. 20 (CNA) A Taiwanese man who is engaged in a battle to legalize his same-sex union vowed to continue the fight for same-sex marriage rights, after a Taipei court said Thursday it will consider seeking a constitutional interpretation on his case.

"We regret the outcome, but respect the court's decision," said Nelson Chen, 40, at a press conference.

At a hearing of the case brought by Chen and his partner Kao Chih-wei, the Taipei High Administrative Court said earlier in the day that it might consider a constitutional interpretation on whether gay couples should be allowed to register as married couples.

In response, Chen said the court's position on the case was regrettable.

"Taiwan is a country that respects human rights. Why do we need a constitutional interpretation?" Chen asked.

He said he and Kao "will not give up" their pursuit of legal marriage. Their absence from the court hearing Thursday was a deliberate choice, he said.

"We already exist. Our happiness is a fact. Why do we need to stand in front of judges and let somebody else decide our happiness?" he asked.

Nonetheless, if the case is brought before the Council of Grand Justices, Chen said, gay rights activists, lawyers, he and his partner should be given an opportunity to voice their opinions to the council.

Chen and Kao had planned to take the matter to the Supreme Administrative Court if the Taipei court had ruled against them, and to seek a constitutional interpretation if the higher court had rejected the case.

Now the case might proceed to the Council of Grand Justices directly and "sooner than we had imagined," Chen said.

Chen said he expects the constitutional interpretation procedure to take about a year and he is optimistic about the outcome.

Chen and Kao filed a complaint earlier this year after their application to register as a married couple in August last year was rejected by a district household registration office.

The couple held a public wedding in 2006, but their application to register as a married couple was turned down by the Zhongshan District Household Registration Office in Taipei.

They then took their case to the Taipei City government, which also rejected their appeal late last year, after which they decided to take legal action.

A total of seven court hearings on the matter have been held since April.

The Zhongshan District Household Registration Office, the defendant in the case, told CNA at the end of November that as an administrative body it must act in accordance with the law, but it respects and supports the couple's decision to take the issue to court.

Dayway Chief, 54, and his partner, whose attempt to register as a married couple was rejected in 1986, said the court's remark on Thursday signaled a step forward on the issue of same-sex marriage over the past two decades in Taiwan.

However, it is "slow progress," Chief added.

He said it remains to be seen whether the court has the will to go all the way and rule in favor of Chen and Kao, 39.

Also commenting on the case, gay activist Huang Chien-chieh said there are practical reasons for gay people to seek legal marriage rights.

"Many people may think there is no need for gay couples to fight for the legal right to get married, but in reality, you cannot sign consent documents for your partner or gain insurance compensation (in non-legal gay unions)," said Huang, leader of a homosexual rights club at Shih Hsin University.

"At your own funeral, your beloved partner can only pay his or her tribute as a 'friend,'" he told CNA recently.

On those issues, Chen said he and Kao are also calling for gay couples to be given the right to jointly purchase properties, sign medical documents on behalf of each other and have a say in each other's funeral arrangements.

Chen and Kao were the second male gay couple known to hold a public wedding in Taiwan. What is believed to be the first one took place in 1996 between Taiwanese writer Hsu Yu-sheng and his American partner Gary Harriman.

Meanwhile, groups against same-sex marriage in Taiwan have been keeping a low-profile on the court case.

Chi Ming, the head of True Love Alliance, a group that openly opposes the inclusion of homosexuality information in gender equality education in schools, declined to speak with CNA about the case recently.

Pastor Chang Mao-sung of the Top Church, who openly opposes same-sex marriage, had said via his secretary that Chen and Kao's actions are against his church's beliefs, but he "respects the couple's decision."

The strongest opposition to same-sex marriage is usually from Christian groups in Taiwan, according to gay rights groups. But even within those groups there are differing opinions.

Kho Sing-doh, a pastor and an associate general secretary at the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan, said his church has not yet taken a position on homosexuality or same-sex marriage.

The Presbyterian Church in Taiwan has been debating the issue since the 1970s, but "has yet to come to a conclusion," Kho said.

He said his church has been making efforts to understand the issue because fear often arises from a lack of understanding.

Taiwan is considered one of the more liberal countries in Asia on homosexual issues.

In August this year, a lesbian couple Fish Huang and You Ya-ting held the country's first same-sex Buddhist wedding ceremony, which was attended by 300 Buddhist guests.

Taiwan's Ministry of Justice has examined the issue of same-sex marriage in Germany, France and Canada and is currently seeking scholars to study how other Asian countries are dealing with the issue.

(By Christie Chen, Huang Yi-han and Alex Jiang)