Constitutional Court rules in favor of same-sex marriage (update)

05/24/2017 08:52 PM
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Taipei, May 24 (CNA) Taiwan's Constitutional Court stated in a landmark ruling Wednesday that the section of the Civil Code that does not allow same-sex marriage is unconstitutional and it asked the Legislature to amend the relevant laws within two years to ensure the rights of gay couples.

The court issued the ruling in Interpretation No. 748 in response to petitions by citizen Chi Chia-wei (祁家威) and the Taipei City government regarding the constitutionality of same-sex marriage. The landmark ruling makes Taiwan the first country in Asia to effectively legalize same-sex marriage.

The court said the Civil Code provisions that do not allow marriage between two persons of the same sex "are in violation of both the people's freedom of marriage as protected by Article 22 and the people's right to equality as guaranteed by Article 7 of the Constitution."

"The authorities concerned shall amend or enact relevant laws, in accordance with the ruling of this Interpretation, within two years from the issuance of this Interpretation," the court stated. "It is within the discretion of the authorities concerned to determine the formality for achieving the equal protection of the freedom of marriage."

If relevant laws are not amended or enacted within two years, same-sex couples will be allowed to marry, using the same process laid out in the Marriage Chapter of the Civil Code, the court said.

At a press conference after the ruling was announced, Presidential Office Secretary-General Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) said the Presidential Office believes that the law should protect the equal right to marriage for everyone and that the ruling is binding on all Taiwanese nationals and all levels of government.

He urged the executive branch of the government to quickly propose relevant legislation and send it to the Legislature in accordance with the Constitutional Court's ruling.

Wu also said President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) is calling on the public to show understanding, tolerance and respect for diverse opinions in the society.

"The president believes that we can resolve our differences within our mature democratic system," he said.

"Regardless of what everyone's position is on the issue of same-sex marriage, this is the moment for us to treat everyone around us as our own brothers and sisters," Tsai later wrote on her Facebook page.

(Gay marriage supporters burst into tears upon hearing the ruling)

The landmark ruling was hailed by many gay rights groups and advocates of same-sex marriage, while anti-gay marriage groups protested.

"Invalid interpretation!" "Unfair procedure!" protesters shouted outside the Judicial Yuan.

They tore up their placards and scattered them in front of the Judicial Yuan, prompting police warnings.

The demonstrators, including members of the Next Generation Alliance, argued that the grand justices were not elected by the people and should not be making such decisions in place of the Legislative Yuan.

Some laws may change as the society changes, but marriage laws should not be one of them because family structures could be harmed if it is left up to just anyone to define marriage, said Yu Hsin-yi (游信義), convener of the Happiness of the Next Generation Alliance.

"Taiwan does not have to be the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage," Yu said.

(anti-gay marriage protesters)

(anti-gay marriage protesters)

Meanwhile, supporters of same-sex marriage and gay rights advocates, including the petitioner Chi, celebrated the court's interpretation.

"I feel like I've become a bird because I am leaping with joy," Chi said.

He lauded the dedicated efforts of different groups within the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community and called on gay marriage supporters to keep the lines of communication open with opponents of same-sex marriage.

(Chi Chia-wei)

Victoria Hsu (許秀雯), president of the Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights, said the ruling was a victory for not only Chi, but for all gay people.

It is a victory even for opponents of gay marriage because their descendants will enjoy equal marriage rights regardless of their sexual orientation, Hsu said.

"The courage of the grand justices is an important driving force in the marriage equality movement," she said.

(Victoria Hsu (middle)

(Supporters of gay marriage rally outside of the Legislative Yuan)

The Constitutional Court issued the ruling after it received two requests for a constitutional interpretation on the issue. One of those requests was filed by Chi in 2015 after his attempt to register his marriage with his male partner was rejected by the household registration office in Wanhua District in Taipei in 2013 and subsequent court appeals failed.

The other request was filed by Taipei City government's Department of Civil Affairs in 2015 after three same-sex couples filed an administrative lawsuit against the government because their marriage registrations were rejected by the department.

The Constitutional Court held a hearing on the issue on March 24, allowing supporters and opponents of marriage equality to debate whether the Civil Code chapter on marriage permitted same-sex marriage and if not, whether it violated the Constitution.

Article 972 of the Civil Code states that an agreement to marry "shall be made by the male and the female parties of their own accord."

Even as the Constitutional Court was examining the issue, same-sex marriage legislation was working its way through the Legislative Yuan and is now awaiting the second reading.

(By Christie Chen and S.C. Chang) ENDITEM/pcRelated:Full text of Constitutional Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriageCabinet, DPP to deliberate revision to Civil CodeTwo grand justices disagree with legalizing same-sex marriage

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