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Hundreds of same-sex couples marry in Taiwan on first day it’s legal

Hundreds of same-sex couples marry in Taiwan on first day it’s legal
A newly married couple kiss on May 24, 2019, the first day of civil registration for same-sex marriage in Taipei, Taiwan. (Ritchie B. Tongo /EPA-EFE /REX)

Amber Wang and Kristin Huang felt a little nervous about showing their faces Friday. Then it hit them that they were making history.

“I think maybe in [the] future our picture will show up in some sources, and classes will remember this thing in our history,” Huang said, turning toward a thicket of television cameras.

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The two 24-year-olds from Taipei joined 526 other same-sex couples in registering their marriages Friday, the first day it was allowed under a law passed last week that is the first of its kind anywhere in Asia and the culmination of years of struggle in Taiwan.

“I feel very proud of Taiwan, because we are the first country in Asia to legalize gay marriage,” Huang said while filling out marriage paperwork at a media-packed registration office in central Taipei. They were among 20 couples who married as a group at the district office Friday morning and attended a joint garden party just outside.

Legislators passed the law, despite divided public opinion, after more than two years of back-and-forth involving the Constitutional Court and a voter referendum. The law advocated by a two-decade-old local LGBTQ movement gives same-sex couples most of the same legal rights offered to male-female counterparts. Same-sex couples can, for example, raise children together, inherit each other’s property and sign each other’s medical paperwork.

The new marriage law helps individuals such as Cheng Chih-yuan. Cheng had seen her partner of nine years through hospital visits, including an operation. One hospital initially wouldn’t let Cheng sign medical forms because the two co-workers in Taipei’s finance sector weren’t married.

“I couldn’t sign for her and she was delayed for quite a few hours,” Cheng said. “The hospital made it hard for us.”

They got married Friday.

Yang Hsun and her new spouse, Hsu Pei-chieh, looked forward mainly to giving their five-year relationship a name the outside world could understand instead of asking quizzical questions about their unmarried but going-steady status. They expect better treatment when traveling overseas, such as joint accident insurance coverage, following their marriage Friday.

Yang, a 29-year-old engineer, and Hsu, 30, an office worker in Taipei, registered in Yang’s rural home county to make a statement in the relatively conservative part of Taiwan. “It’s a way of giving them an education in marriage equality,” Hsu said as the couple prepared for the registration accompanied by three family members. “We’re happy Taiwan can have this day.”

Some newlyweds had to overcome conservative views themselves, including those of their parents, to prep for marriage.

“The first time I attended an LGBTQ rally, I took a rainbow flag and waved it diligently, but when I got back on the road I put it away and didn’t dare take it out,” said Lin Hsuan, 31, holding back tears. He and his spouse, Yuan Shan-ming, 30, who have been together for more than a decade, registered in Taipei on Friday in matching peach-colored suits, behind flower bouquets and facing a witness in rainbow-hued clothes. “Now today I can tell everyone to their faces that we’re gay and we’re proud of it.”

Same-sex marriage opponents including religious groups vowed this week to cast protest votes in the January 2020 parliamentary and presidential elections. Letting same-sex couples marry deprives children of mother-father households and will lead to insurance benefit scams, opponents have warned.

The law also defies a November 2018 national advisory referendum, they argue, in which more than 7.6 million voters, or 72%, said marriage should be restricted to one man and one woman. Legislators decided instead that all Taiwanese people should have equal access to marriage.

“We respect public opinion and we’re angry that it’s not being respected,” said Huang Tsu-chen, an event organizer with the Taipei-based opposition group Union of Sons and Daughters. “Elected representatives shouldn’t go against the people’s sentiment.”

Going forward, LGBTQ activists will use movies about same-sex couples among other “exchanges with society” to educate Taiwanese on the issues, said Joyce Teng, deputy coordinator with the advocacy group Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan. “This society still has a lot of misunderstanding,” she said.

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Jennings is a special correspondent.

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