by J A S ON L I U
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article do not represent PAS, but the author himself.
Taiwan has prided itself as a liberal democracy for decades. However, when it comes to the “standards” of morality in our society, Taiwan has stayed relatively conservative compared to the western democracies.
In May 2017, Taiwan’s Constitutional Court declared the definition of marriage “between a man and a woman” as unconstitutional and mandated the parliament to amend legislation to include same-sex marriages. Nonetheless, as of November 2018, no real actions have been taken to effectively enact such laws. Instead, as the critics of the Tsai Administration stated, the members of the Democratic Progressive Party have backed away from supporting same-sex marriage in face of well-organized oppositions.
Furthermore, on November 24, Taiwanese citizens will vote on a series of referendums that will impose further obstacles to legalizing same-sex marriage. This referendum could potentially lead to the end of any kinds of legislation aiming to promote equality for same-sex couples. Here are the questions that are up for votes in this referendum:
10. Do you agree that Civil Code regulations should restrict marriage to being between a man and a woman?" (你是否同意民法婚姻規定應限定在一男一女的結合?)
11. Do you agree that the Ministry of Education and individual schools should not teach homosexual-related education, as detailed under the Enforcement Rules for the Gender Equity Education Act, in elementary and middle-level schools?" (你是否同意在國民教育階段內（國中及國小），教育部及各級學校不應對學生實施性別平等教育法施行細則所定之同志教育？)
12. ”Do you agree to types of unions, other than those stated in the marriage regulations in the Civil Code, to protect the rights of same-sex couples who live together permanently?" (你是否同意以民法婚姻規定以外之其他形式來保障同性別二人經營永久共同生活的權益？)
14. “Do you agree that the Civil Code marriage regulations should be used to guarantee the rights of same-sex couples to get married?" (您是否同意，以民法婚姻章保障同性別二人建立婚姻關係？)
15. "Do you agree that gender equity education as defined in 'the Gender Equity Education Act' should be taught at all stages of the national curriculum and that such education should cover courses on emotional education, sex education, and gay and lesbian education?" (您是否同意，以「性別平等教育法」明定在國民教育各階段內實施性別平等教育，且內容應涵蓋情感教育、性教育、同志教育等課程？)
These five question, surrounding the issue of same-sex marriage and gender and sex education in elementary and secondary school, are what will be on the referendum on Saturday. As many can see, these questions are submitted by two opposing sides of the policy: one for the legalization of same-sex marriage and one against.
To me, same-sex marriage should be a basic human right in a liberal democracy. Devastatingly, the polls show the opposite. More than 70% of the surveyed individuals are in favor of limiting the definition of marriage to unions between a male and a female. To understand such a result, it is imperative to ask: why is same-sex marriage opposed?
The most common argument is that marriage is sacred and should be kept between males and females. Opponents of marriage equality, most being devout Christian ministers, cites the Bible as their justification for “traditional marriage.” By upholding the “traditional” values, they hope that the society would stay in the status quo. They fear that by legalizing same-sex marriages, people would abandon traditional marriages. However, this perception is undoubtedly false. The concept of "traditional marriage" has changed over time, and the definition of marriage as always being between one man and one woman is historically inaccurate. For example, prior to the civil rights movement in the US, interracial marriage was once illegal in the majority of US states. Today, interracial couples are more common than ever. There is no definition of a traditional marriage. Instead, it is a social construct created to deny couples that do not fit the society’s standards of the right to marry.
As to gender and sex education for students in primary and secondary schools, it is imperative to implement this education to an extent in order to combat discrimination and stereotypes in our society. Schools are tasked with the mission to combat misconceptions and discriminations that tend to develop during one’s adolescence. With the notion to ban such education not only is counterproductive, but also create expectations for children to be “un-homophobic” and “un-transphobic” in their primary and secondary schoolings. In numerous cases, children began to bully others because of their differences starting in primary schools. Such bullying becomes haunting trauma victims have to keep to themselves throughout their whole lives. By providing sex and gender education early on will help children understand each other and accept their own differences.
Moreover, this referendum shouldn’t have been set to determine the future of marriage equality in the first place. Basic human and civil rights of marginalized groups are often only supported by the minority during different periods of time shown through various examples including the civil rights movement in the United States to the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingyas in Myanmar today. The majority opinion isn’t always ethical or correct. Therefore, by placing the civil rights of a historically and socially marginalized and stigmatized group on referendums, the future to gain equality seems dim. People’s civil rights should not hinge on a popular vote.
Civil rights - rights for people in society to equal treatment and equal opportunities - is something that should be upheld and granted in a liberalized democratic society. To be treated equally is not something that people need to beg for.
It’s still not too late to change this. Although many of you may not be able to vote in the upcoming referendum which requires voters to be of 18 years old, many of your family members may be able to. In order to truly be a liberalized democracy, Taiwan needs to step up in terms of protecting the rights of the marginalized groups. Please, educate yourself on this referendum and vote, or persuade others to vote, based on what most closely represents social justice, equality, and protection of the unprotected.