'Rights we deserve': LBGTI supporters celebrate Taiwan marriage equality ruling

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Supporters of same-sex marriage in Taiwan are celebrating a landmark ruling which paves the way for the island nation to become the first country in Asia to recognise gay marriage.

On Wednesday a panel of 14 judges ruled that current marriage laws preventing deny LGBTI people their right to marriage equality were unconstitutional, and that same-sex couples have the right to legally marry.

Gay marriage campaigners gathered close to Taiwan’s parliament to celebrate the decision, wet weather failing to dampen their spirits.

“Today it can be said that they granted us the rights we deserve, although there are still some steps to take, I think this is only the beginning," same-sex marriage supporter Ma Shih-Chang said.

Watching the decision unfold from the mainland was Lai Jeng-jer, 51, a leading figure in the Taiwan gay rights movement in Taiwan who moved to Beijing five years ago.

“I’m ecstatic. So proud of Taiwan,” Mr. Lai said.

“Back then I never thought I would witness things like this happening. I couldn’t imagine.”

He has been involved in the same-sex marriage movement since the 1980s.

“Because I'm older I grew up in a really conservative environment," he said.

"It was really hard to survive as a gay person. I was bullied by your classmates in school and faced a lot of pressure from my parents to marry a woman. I think this ruling will definitely influence other Asian countries.”

Lai Jeng-jer, a gay rights activist from Taiwan
Lai Jeng-jer, a gay rights activist from Taiwan is ecstatic and proud of the island's constitutional court ruling in favour of gay marriage.
SBS News

Mr Lai hopes to return to Taiwan to marry his partner, and Beijing LGBTI community leader, Wei Xiaogang, believes many others in mainland China will follow suit.

“I believe we'll have a lot of people going to Taiwan to get married and then come back and appeal to the courts here and ask, since we're one country why is our marriage recognised there but not here?”

Mr Wei says Beijing is still a long way from legalising gay marriage, but says the Taiwan ruling will increase acceptance of LGBTI people in the wider community.

“It won’t simply make people accept gay marriage, but the exposure to this issue will be much higher.”

Taiwanese society is divided over the ruling, with those opposed to gay marriage protesting outside the constitutional court on Wednesday.

"The whole society doesn’t have any consensus regarding same-sex marriage," Christian pastor Deborah Hsin said.

"I think the controversy is very big and a lot of common people are very worried, because same-sex marriage goes against their principles,” she added.

Taiwan is home to Asia’s largest annual gay pride parade, and considered a progressive hub in the region.

The ruling Democratic Progressive Party that swept elections in the self-ruled island last year supported the move towards same-sex marriage.

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Current president Tsai-ing Wen promised to work towards change during her election campaign, declaring “in the face of love, everyone is equal”.

It’s still unclear as to whether the constitutional court’s ruling will lead to gay marriage.

The court has given two years for legal amendments to allow same-sex marriage.

If the legislature fails to pass an amendment or legislation within that period, same-sex couples “shall be allowed to have their marriage registration effectuated at the authorities in charge of household registration,” the court wrote in a news release.

-With Reuters

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