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Asia

Taiwan's gays hope for a 'Marriage Revolution'

What started a decade ago with a few hundred participants has now become the largest Asian gay pride parade. This year, well over 50,000 people showed up in the Taiwanese capital to show their support.

Chen Jing-hsueh und Gao Jhih-wei stand surrounded by people in extravagant costumes of feathers and men in leather and drag queens. The couple met nine years ago over the Internet. They got engaged and then married in 2006.

"We are no different from other couples," says Chen Jing-hsueh.

"According to tradition, marriage has to be between a man and a woman. But I think it is much more important that we love and take care of each other."

Gay couple sues capital

Gao and Chen collect signatures at the gay pride parade in Taipei, 2012; Photo: DW/Martin Aldrovandi

Gao and Chen hope their marriage will be recognized

When they tried to register their marriage officially last year, they received a letter that it would not be possible. Chen didn't want to accept that so he and his partner sued Taiwan's capital city, Taipei.

The couple's lawyer points out that in Taiwan's civil law, it is not explicitly mentioned that a marriage can only be between a man and a woman. Therefore, according to their lawyer Liu Chi-wei, the marriage between Gao and Chen should be recognized.

"Just because someone long ago said that a marriage is an institution between one man and one woman, does that make it so? If there is no basis to this in the law, then a marriage cannot be simply declared invalid."

After six hearings at the Taipei High Administrative Court, a verdict is expected by the end of the year. Liu describes this as a great achievement and a step towards the acceptance of same-sex marriages. He believes lawmakers will eventually have to address the issue, as "taking the legal route only applies to one specific case. This does not solve any problems in the system."

"Marriage Revolution"

Lu Shi Wei is an advocate for same-sex marriage. During the pride parade, she stands on the "Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnerships Rights" float and calls out to other participants through a megaphone to get people to sign a petition. The alliance's goal is to get one million signatures within a year.

A man wears feathers and beads on a bare chest at Taipei's gay pride parade; Photo: DW/Martin Aldrovandi

Many of the participants show up in extravagant costumes

"This is not only about same-sex marriage, but about marriage in general. We need comprehensive reform and we need to rethink our attitudes towards romantic relationships," Lu tells DW. The petition not only demands the recognition of same-sex marriages but also of civil and multiple-partner relationships.

The slogan of this year's Taiwan Pride parade was "Marriage Revolution." Big names in show biz have already penned in their names, for example the singer A-mei, and Tsai Ing-wen - a member of the opposition party who ran in the presidential election.

Fight for equal rights

Activists in Taiwan have been fighting for decades for the recognition of marital status for homosexuals. The island's most prominent AIDS activist Chi Chia-Wei tried to get register his relationship as a marriage in 1986. He notes that society has come a long way since then.

"Back then, many people thought I was the only homosexual in all of Taiwan. Some people even asked me who I would marry - there were no other gays aside from me. They had no clue."

Chi Chia-wei at the Taipei gay pride parade, 2012; Photo: DW/Martin Aldrovandi

Chi Chia-wei believes times are changing

Most people in Taiwan are tolerant - as long as it doesn't involve their own families, says Chi. He also points out that it is a generational issue as well: "Old people especially still have trouble with it." But he remains optimistic. "In two generations' time, everything will be different. By that time, we won't need to fight for same-sex marriage anymore."

Chi Chia-wei has participated in all of Taipei's pride parades so far. He also went to all hearings for Chen Jing-hsueh and Gao Jhih-wei. He hopes they have more success with their lawsuit than he had. Chen and Gao are now standing at the Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnerships Rights' stand and are distributing brochures and collecting signatures. It would be a dream come true, says Chen, if Taiwan were to be the first Asian country to allow same-sex marriage.

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