Taiwan man behind Asia's first gay marriage law urges others to fight

Thursday, 23 May 2019 09:48 GMT

Gay rights activist Chi Chia-wei arrives to cast his vote for the local elections and a referendum on same-sex marriage, in Taipei, Taiwan, November 24, 2018. REUTERS/Ann Wang

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Chi Chia-wei campaigned relentlessly for same-sex marriage for over 30 years

By Beh Lih Yi

KUALA LUMPUR, May 23 (Openly) - A leading Taiwanese gay activist on Thursday called on the LGBT+ community in other parts of Asia to take their battles to court after his successful legal fight paved the way for the region's first same-sex marriage law.

Chi Chia-wei, who was the first person to come out publicly as gay in 1986 on the self-ruled island, has mounted numerous legal challenges for gay unions in a three-decade fight.

But his latest culminated in a landmark 2017 court ruling which declared same-sex couples had the right to marry, setting the stage for a law passed in Taiwan's parliament last week.

Chi called on gay couples to take similar legal action elsewhere in Asia where the push for same-sex marriage remains slow despite global advances in recent years..

"Taiwan has taken a big step, other countries will not need another 30 years to get there," the 60-year-old told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from the capital Taipei.

"We did not achieve this overnight. If Taiwan can do it, what about all the other Asian giants?" he said, a day before Taiwan celebrates the new law with mass weddings.

Socially conservative attitudes prevail across Asia, with Myanmar, Malaysia and Singapore banning sexual relationships between men, while Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim-majority country, has seen an increase in raids targeting LGBT+ people in recent years.

Thailand has drafted a civil partnership bill while Vietnam allows gay marriage ceremonies but couples do not enjoy the same legal protections as heterosexuals.

Often spotted in pride rallies draped in a rainbow flag, Chi has campaigned relentlessly for same-sex marriage for over 30 years, sending numerous petitions to authorities and courts.

He was jailed for five months in 1986 for robbery, an accusation he said was trumped up to intimidate his campaign soon after he filed the first petition for gay unions.

His latest petition led to the 2017 ruling but conservative groups fought back with campaigns, including at a referendum last year in which two-thirds of voters wanted the definition of marriage to stay between a man and a woman.

The government later proposed same-sex marriage to be allowed under a separate new law, a move it said respected both the court ruling and the referendum results.

On Friday, Chi will witness the marriage registration for dozens of same-sex couples, the first among those who wed under the new law.

But personally, he was in no rush to marry his long-time partner, a 52-year-old who works in a securities brokerage.

"This is never about me or my partner. I did it because I knew many other same-sex couples who needed the legal protections," he said. "Life goes on for me."

(Reporting by Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi; Editing by Belinda Goldsmith Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Openly is an initiative of the Thomson Reuters Foundation dedicated to impartial coverage of LGBT+ issues from around the world.

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