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In a first for Asia, Taiwan moves to legalize same-sex marriage

SAM YEH/AFP/Getty Images)

In Taipei, Taiwan, this morning there was jubilation in the streets.

The island’s highest court had just struck down Taiwan’s anti–gay marriage laws as unconstitutional, paving the way for the first system of legalized same-sex marriage anywhere in Asia. "The judges have today said yes to marriage equality," Amnesty International's Lisa Tassi told NPR. "This is a huge step forward for LGBTI rights in Taiwan and will resonate across Asia."

The big winners are people like Chi Chai-Wei, a Taiwanese LGBTQ rights activist who has been fighting to marry his partner for more than 30 years.

“I’m leaping with joy like a bird,” he told the Telegraph. “It’s been a long fight, and I’m in need of a good sleep.”

The Taiwanese high court’s ruling was blunt. “The provisions” of Taiwan’s current civil code on marriage, the legal ruling read, “do not allow two persons of the same sex to create a permanent union of intimate and exclusive nature for the committed purpose of managing a life together.”

The court ruled that those provisions privileged heterosexual Taiwanese over their same-sex counterparts — and made some more equal before the law than others.

The court then went further, dictating that within two years a new law needed to be on the books that would allow full freedom to marry. If no specific law appears before that time, same-sex couples will, by default, simply be allowed to register in the same manner as their straight friends.

The issue, the court underscored, was one of “human dignity.”

Now legislators will be tasked with coming up with a law specifically allowing same-sex marriage, or they will need to amend the current civil code to include gay men and lesbians. LGBTQ activists hope for the latter, the BBC reported today, as there is concern about half-measures that would still institutionalize inequality (like approving same-sex unions but barring gay and lesbian couples from adopting children).

Today, at least, logistics seemed far from the minds of many of those captured celebrating in Taiwan earlier today:

LGBTQ rights in Asia are still sharply limited

But while most media showed rapturous images from Taipei’s streets, the issue of same-sex marriage has roiled Taiwan for many months now. In November, massive protests broke out over the issue that eventually drew crowds of more than 12,000 from the two sides. The competing protesters were divided by a large contingent of police officers.

And anti–marriage equality protesters appeared out in some force today as well. Taiwan News reported a group called Coalition for the Happiness of Our Next Generation protested outside the court. “Some requested the invalidation of the interpretation and the president to step down,” the paper wrote.

LGBTQ rights in Asia are by no means assured. In the Indonesian province of Aceh this week, two men were caned 83 times each for engaging in gay sex, the BBC reports. The two men, who were not identified, are 20 and 23 years old.

And in South Korea Wednesday, a military officer was sentenced to jail time for sex with men. “The conviction raises fears that dozens of other military personnel will face a similar fate,” Amnesty International said in a statement, and this sentencing was part of a “bigoted hunt to root out gay personnel.”

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