Taipei, Oct. 24 (CNA) Eight same-sex couples became the center of attention at Taipei City's mass wedding on Saturday, walking down the aisle to cheers and applause at an event that has officially been opened to gay couples for the first time since it started in 1973.
Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) presided over the wedding at the University of Taipei's sports stadium and gave blessings to the 123 couples who tied the knot there.
"The wedding today not only marks the 10th anniversary of our happiness and companionship, it is also our way to show practical support for the Taipei city government, for its decision to include gay couples in its mass wedding," said gay rights activist Nelson Chen (陳敬學), who joined the wedding with his partner Kao Chih-wei (高治瑋).
"Even though same-sex marriage is not yet legalized in Taiwan, if more gay couples can bravely come forward, it will set a great example for the public," Chen told CNA.
The pair dressed as chefs and carried kitchen utensils in their hands as they walked down the aisle -- a symbol that they want to spend more time in the future being "house husbands" for each other -- after having spent the last decade involved in social movements, Chen said.
The high-profile couple held a public wedding banquet in 2006, and are known for fighting a court case between 2011 and 2013 to legalize their marriage.
[Nelson Chen (left) and Kao Chih-wei (right)]
[Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (right)]
The Taipei City mass wedding came just one day after Taoyuan City held a group wedding that was also opened up to same-sex couples, becoming the first city in Taiwan to do so.
Although same-sex marriage is not legally recognized in Taiwan and the wedding is symbolic instead of legally binding, many see these developments in the government as a sign of rising public support for the gay community in Taiwan, which is considered to be one of Asia's more liberal countries on gay issues.
Another same-sex couple that participated in the wedding was Jennifer Lu (呂欣潔), a gay rights advocate and legislative candidate, and her partner Chen Ling (陳凌).
"Finally, after such a long time, small progress is being made in the gay rights movement," Lu said. "Next, we are looking forward to acceleration in the legislative process."
Lu was referring to a same-sex marriage bill that has been stalled in the Legislature since it passed the first reading in 2013. Bills must pass three readings in the Legislature before being sent to the president to be promulgated.
[Jennifer Lu (left) and Chen Ling (right)]
Lu's mother, Wanda Chang (張瑛娟), said it was a "surreal" feeling for her to attend her daughter's wedding.
"Ever since I knew about her lesbian identity, I have always thought that she would never marry like everyone else does. I could never have predicted this. It feels surreal for me, but I am so happy for them. It is nice to have a partner to support you through life," Chang said.
"I believe everyone is born equal. No matter who you love, you should be allowed basic human rights," she said.
"As a mother, I just want to tell her: 'no matter who you love, I will always love you. I will always support you. I just want you to be happy.'"
[Same-sex couple and their families]
Not all parents of same-sex couples at the event, however, were ready to openly share their happiness with the public. One mother declined media interviews on behalf of her son because she did not want his name and face to appear on the news.
Heterosexual couples, meanwhile, voiced support for their gay counterparts.
"I think it is a blessing that we can all get married together. It doesn't matter which gender you love, as long as you love someone, you should be able to be together with them," said Han Hsin-ying (韓欣穎), one of the brides.
Her husband Tsai Meng-shih (蔡孟蒔) echoed her views. He said he has several gay friends whose family members do not always support them.
But if the government introduces friendlier measures and allows the voices of same-sex couples to be heard, "it will help their families be more accepting," Tsai said.
[Couple Tsai Meng-shih (left) and Han Hsin-ying (right)]
The Taipei city council modified regulations in early July, opening the door for same-sex couples to join the mass wedding, which is held twice a year in Taipei. Since 1973, over 16,000 couples have tied the knot at the wedding.
(By Christie Chen)ENDITEM/ke