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First in East Asia, Taiwan parliament reviews gay marriage bill (update)

2014/12/22 23:53:07

Taipei, Dec. 22 (CNA) A proposed amendment to the Civil Code that aims to legalize same-sex marriage became a hot topic of debate at a committee in Taiwan's Legislature Monday, marking the first time that such a bill has ever been reviewed at the parliamentary level in East Asia.

Opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmaker Cheng Li-chiun, one of the lawmakers who proposed the draft bill, said in the session of the Judiciary and Organic Laws and Statutes Committee that it is the Legislature's responsibility to make changes to discriminatory or unfair laws.

"No one deserves to be deprived of their rights at birth to be on an equal footing with others just because of their psychological or biological differences," Cheng said of the current system in Taiwan, which like many other countries only recognizes marriage between a man and a woman.

"If we cannot break the cycle of discrimination, then everyone could become a victim of discrimination because of their respective differences," she asserted.

During the session, DPP lawmakers exchanged verbal fire with Deputy Justice Minister Chen Ming-tang, who said his ministry favors a more gradual process beginning with discussions on same-sex couples' medical, taxation and other rights, instead of a one-step revision of the Civil Code.

Several ruling Kuomintang lawmakers also opposed amending the Civil Code. In a press release, the KMT caucus said there is still a lack of social consensus on the issue and both the ruling and opposing parties should actively encourage social dialogue on the topic.

Under the 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.

Monday's review was only an interpellation between lawmakers and government officials, as the bill has not yet progressed to an article-by-article review.

The proposed amendment, which would legalize same-sex marriage and allow married gay couples to adopt children, cleared a first reading in the Legislative Yuan last year, which means only 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.

Bills must pass three readings in the Legislature before being sent to the president to be promulgated.

Members of the Taiwan Religious Groups Alliance for the Family held a press conference in front of the Legislature earlier in the day to oppose the amendment.

"Human rights and marriage rights are not the same thing. People are born with human rights, but marriage rights are acquired," the group said in a statement.

The group said it does not deny the existence of homosexual people, but "marriage rights are given by the state and the society, and not something that people are born with. The state and the society have a complete say and the power to make decisions on marriage."

On Monday, gay rights groups voiced support for the bill.

Chen Chia-chun, spokesperson for the Lobby Alliance for LGBT Human Rights, said the right to get married is a basic human right and all young people, gay and lesbian families, and gay and lesbian youngsters in Taiwan are closely following the legislative session.

She said the gay and lesbian community has only one request, and that is to be able to "stand like a human being" in front of the law.

(By Christie Chen)

Related stories:
●Dec. 22: In debate on same-sex marriage bill, legislators urged to go slow
●Dec. 16: Jolin Tsai launches emotional music video to promote same-sex marriage
●Oct. 25: Thousands march in Taipei's gay pride parade
●Oct. 25: Religious groups oppose 'sexual liberation' on gay parade pride day

●New York Times: For Asia's gays, Taiwan stands out as beacon (OCt. 29)