Taiwan’s top court rules in favor of same-sex marriage

Taiwan's Constitutional Court has ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, making Taiwan the first place in Asia to recognize such unions. It could still take up to two years before same-sex marriages are allowed to be performed.

The Constitutional Court, in a 12-2 ruling, said the Civil Code provisions that define marriage as between a man and a woman are unconstitutional because they are in violation of both the people's freedom of marriage as protected by Article 22 and the people's right to equality as guaranteed by Article 7.

"The authorities concerned shall amend or enact relevant laws, in accordance with the ruling of this Interpretation, within two years from the issuance of this Interpretation," the court said. "It is within the discretion of the authorities concerned to determine the formality for achieving the equal protection of the freedom of marriage."

This means it could still take up to two years before same-sex couples are allowed to marriage. If lawmakers fail to make the changes within two years, same-sex couples will be allowed to submit a written document signed by two witnesses to have their marriage legally recognized.

President Tsai Ing-wen welcomed the ruling and said her administration would put forward legislation to change the marriage law. "The result of the interpretation is neither victory nor defeat. Regardless of one's position on the issue of same-sex marriage, this is the moment that we look at all people as brothers and sisters," she said.

The case was initiated by citizen Chia-Wei Chi, who has campaigned for same-sex marriage for more than 30 years. The Legislative Yuan has been unable to agree on legislation that grant same-sex couples the same marriage rights as heterosexuals.

"The representative body is to enact or revise the relevant laws in due time. Nevertheless, the timetable for such legislative solution is hardly predictable now and yet these petitions involve the protection of people's fundamental rights," the court said. "It is the constitutional duty of this Court to render a binding judicial decision, in time, on issues concerning the safeguarding of constitutional basic values."

Wednesday's ruling was supported by the majority of the Court's 15 justices. Justice Jui-Ming Huang had recused himself from the case while Justice Chen-Huan Wu filed a dissenting opinion and Justice Horng-Shya Huang filed a dissenting opinion in part.

Groups opposed to gay marriage condemned Wednesday's decision and called for an investigation of the justices who examined the case, according to the state-run Central News Agency. They accused the justices of dereliction of duty and infringement on legislative authority.

One group, the Happiness Alliance, called for a referendum on gay marriage and vowed to unseat lawmakers who approve changes to the current law. Another group said the justices had 'abused their rights' by changing the definition of marriage, comparing it to the September 11 attacks in which nearly 3,000 people were killed when planes were hijacked and flown into U.S. landmarks.

Nonetheless, Taiwan is one of Asia's most progressive societies on the issue of LGBT rights, hosting an annual gay pride parade which draws up to 80,000 people a year.

Once effective, the ruling will make Taiwan the first territory in Asia to recognize same-sex marriages. The Netherlands was the first country in the world to allow same-sex marriages after Queen Beatrix signed the marriage bill into law on December 21, 2000. It went into law on April 1, 2001.

Support for same-sex marriage has increased in many parts of the Western world over the past decade, though legal recognition remains limited or non-existent in many countries.A total of 21 countries have legalized gay marriage, as well as the United Kingdom, with the exception of Northern Ireland.

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