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In debate on same-sex marriage bill, legislators urged to go slow

2014/12/22 23:17:07

Taipei, Dec. 22 (CNA) The debate over a same-sex marriage bill being reviewed in a legislative committee Monday became heated over arguments made by the Ministry of Justice in advocating a more measured approach to promoting the rights of gay couples.

A report presented by the ministry at the hearing of the Judiciary and Organic Laws and Statutes Committee opposed "hastily" passing a same-sex marriage bill, arguing that a social consensus was still lacking on the issue.

"The ministry believes that this issue is related to our national condition and social and ethical framework," the report said.

"At present, there are still many disagreements and disputes in our society. It is really not appropriate for us to revise the Civil Code hastily."

In presenting the report, Deputy Justice Minister Chen Ming-tang said at the hearing that his ministry did not favor a change to the marriage laws in the Civil Code, as there are "too many disputes."

Instead, the ministry favors a more gradual process beginning with discussions on same-sex couples' medical, taxation and other rights, Chen said.

"Overall, (a change to) marriage laws should follow behind" the other changes, he said during the session, which was reviewing a proposed amendment to the Civil Code that aims to legalize same-sex marriage and allow gay married couples to adopt children.

The amendment cleared a first reading in the Legislative Yuan last year, which means that it was announced and then sent to the relevant committee for discussion. Up until Monday, it had been shelved largely due to opposition from religious groups.

Monday's hearing was held to discuss the bill in general terms before the committee proceeds to an article-by-article review.

Even if the bill eventually clears committee, it would still have to pass a vote of the full Legislature.

In responding to Chen's opposition to the amendment, opposition Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Cheng Li-chiun, one of the sponsors of the draft bill, objected to the notion that a social consensus was needed before a same-sex marriage bill can be passed.

"What happened to 'all are equal before the law'? Why can some laws be unequal to some people? Aren't gays and minorities also people?" she asked.

"Even if there is only one gay, we should protect his or her rights. To say 'no social consensus' is not a fact," Cheng said, citing a poll showing over 50 percent support for same-sex marriage, and over 80 percent of support among the 20-29 age bracket in Taiwan.

Chen answered that social acceptance of same-sex marriage is still gaining traction in Taiwan and expressed his belief that law is an evolutionary process. The Civil Rights Act in the United States was also gradually formed, he said.

It is better to first give same-sex couples better rights in other areas and then revise the marriage laws in the Civil Code when there is a broader social consensus, he said.

The report presented by Chen cited four main arguments for opposing the amendment, which also drew angry retorts from DPP lawmakers.

First, according to the report, is that the proposed amendment goes against the concept of family and human relationships because it removes terms such as "man, woman, husband, wife, father and mother" that clearly define those relationships.

Under the current proposed amendment, the terms "man and woman," "husband and wife" and "father and mother" in the Civil Code would be changed to the gender-neutral "two parties," "spouses" and "parents," respectively.

Second, the amendment violates the principles on blood relationships laid down in Taiwan's Civil Code because married gay couples are not capable of having their own biological children in wedlock, the report argued.

It would also affect the order of inheritance, the report said. Currently, the inheritance of a homosexual individual is divided between his or her parents.

If same-sex marriage were allowed, each parent of a married gay individual would only be able to receive one-fourth of the individual's inheritance, or none if the individual adopts children, the report said.

Lastly, the phrases "husband and wife" and "father and mother" (including "grandfather and grandmother" and "great grandfather and great grandmother") are used in 109 laws and 342 articles and if all of those laws have to be changed, "the impact would be widespread," the report said.

DPP Legislator Lin Shu-fen responded that the ministry's report is filled with discrimination not only against homosexual people, but against people who cannot have children, or have adopted children.

"So you think a couple that doesn't have children is jeopardizing the marriage system?" she asked Chen.

She also questioned why the ministry did not place parents' rights to inheritance above spouses' rights to inheritance for married heterosexual couples, but requires so for gay married couples.

"Why don't you ask married heterosexual couples to give first priority to their parents' inheritance rights?" she asked.

She said the ministry's attitude is an example of a "state machine taking the lead in discriminating and suppressing" society's minority groups.

Chen said his ministry will propose a more comprehensive policy direction and position regarding same-sex couples' rights to the Judiciary Committee by the end of December, but he stressed it would not be in the form of a bill.

(By Christie Chen)

Related stories:
●Dec. 22: First in East Asia, Taiwan parliament reviews gay marriage bill
●Oct. 25: Thousands march in Taipei's gay pride parade
●Oct. 25: Religious groups oppose 'sexual liberation' on gay parade pride day