RACE TO BE FIRST WITH THE LEAST
Now it is again possible that Thailand will be the first nation in Asia to legalize same-sex partnerships.
In Taiwan on Saturday November 24, nation-wide referendum proposals passed by the overwhelming margin of 2 to 1 to urge the government of Taiwan to block same-sex marriages or civil partnerships. Referendum issues to express public opinion had been pushed by conservative religious and social groups to try to get the legislature to take action opposing same-sex unions before a high court ruling comes into effect next May which would mandate such partnerships. [See our celebration of the court’s decision in May 2017: www.kendobson.asia/blog/taiwan-wins. Our celebration was premature.] The “anti” forces resorted to devious, illegal tactics and used mountains of money from homophobic Christian churches in America, while the “pro” forces attempted to impress the people and the government through mass rallies and public debates. This has to be a set-back for LGBT groups in Taiwan, and for all of us who were hoping the right minority would win the votes on Monday. Indeed, the anti-same-sex-rights groups are a small minority, and LGBT folks and their friends are another minority, while the majority in the middle can swing either way. For the time being, and a critical time it is, the middle is heavily on the side against anything but marriage between one man and one woman.
While this was going on in Taiwan, in Thailand the military government was holding public hearings on the question of same-sex civil partnerships to be included in a new constitution being fine-tuned leading to elections for seats in a new parliament to be convened early next year (maybe). Some announcement about the matter of civil partnerships could be made before the New Year. The machinery is moving things forward in the direction of civil partnerships, which would be the first national legalization of such a thing in Asia.
In Thailand as in Taiwan LGBT activists are hoping for more than legalized partnerships, which would create a new category of relationship under the law, and open a can of worms as countless cases crawl to courts. It would be so much more sensible to just abolish the mention of “between a man and woman” from the marriage provisions of family law, and say “between two people.” Politics, as we have always known, is the art of the possible. If 100% is not possible we will take a smaller percent and work toward a better percentage. In the push toward inclusion of “partnerships” in the new Thai constitution, late reports are that a couple of key provisions are back into consideration (to quiet some of the opposition). It is suggested the new law will satisfy most advocates if it includes the right for same-sex couples to adopt children, have tax benefits similar to married couples, and for partners to have a legal voice in medical decisions regarding an incapacitated spouse.
Meanwhile, gay news sources in Taiwan are reminding disappointed advocates of marriage equality that all is not lost. The legislature may do nothing (although one interpretation of the Taiwan referendum law is that if 25% of the voter population expresses an opinion the legislature must take action to reflect that). LGBT legal advisers argued against the referendums that were held last Saturday, on the basis that it ought to be up to the courts to settle the legal rights of disempowered minority groups, rather than leaving it up to the public at large. If the legislature gets away with doing nothing between now and next May, marriage equality will become law, with the implications and nuances still to be determined. However, it is very likely that legislators have noticed the large margins of public dissent, and that will prompt them to take defensive action to minimize equal rights.
Lawmakers in both Taiwan and Thailand are now in the mode of trying to determine just how little they can get away with.
Note: The Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights (TAPCPR), the main LGBTQ legal defense team that brought the May 2017 case before the Supreme Court of Taiwan, has sued the Central Election Committee of Taiwan for allowing this "unconstitutional" referendum to proceed. You can read their public statement (English translation) via this link: TAPCPR STATEMENT
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.