LGBT rights in Taiwan

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Locator map of the ROC Taiwan.svg
Gender identityTransgender people who have undergone sex reassignment surgery are allowed to change legal gender
MilitaryAllowed to serve openly
Discrimination protectionsSexual orientation discrimination prohibited in education, employment, and all other areas;
Gender identity discrimination prohibited in education
Family rights
Recognition of relationshipsSame-sex marriage since 2019
AdoptionStepchild adoption permitted since 2019

Lesbian, gay, bisexual (LGB) rights in Taiwan are regarded as the most progressive in Asia, [1] but in some respects, transgender rights are more conservative in comparison to countries such as Pakistan.[2] [3] Both male and female same-sex sexual activity are legal, and same-sex marriage was legalized on 24 May 2019, following a Constitutional Court ruling in May 2017. Although same-sex couples are currently unable to jointly adopt a child, they may adopt stepchildren.

The Executive Yuan first proposed the legal recognition of same-sex marriage in 2003; however, the bill received strong opposition at that time and was not voted on. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender characteristics in education has been banned nationwide since 2004.[4] With regard to employment, discrimination on the basis sexual orientation has also been prohibited by law since 2007.[5]

On 24 May 2017, the Judicial Yuan ruled that the existing marriage law was unconstitutional, and that same-sex couples should gain the right to marry. The court gave the Legislative Yuan a maximum of two years to either amend existing laws or enact laws to provide legal recognition of same-sex marriage. According to the court ruling, if the Parliament failed to do so by 24 May 2019, same-sex marriage would automatically become legal.[6][7] On 17 May 2019, the Legislative Yuan approved a bill, submitted by the Executive Yuan, recognizing marriage for same-sex couples. The bill was signed into law by President Tsai Ing-wen on 22 May and went into effect on 24 May. Thus, Taiwan became the first country in Asia to recognize same-sex marriage.[8]

The first Taiwan Pride was held in Taipei in 2003. By 2015, when the event was attended by 80,000 participants, it had become the second-largest LGBT pride in Asia, behind Tel Aviv Pride in Israel, which has led many to refer to Taiwan as one of the most liberal countries in Asia as well.[9] By 2019, attendance had grown to 170,000 participants.[10][11]

Legality of same-sex sexual activity[edit]

Private, consensual, and noncommercial sexual activity between adults of the same sex is legal in Taiwan. In fact, homosexuality has never been a crime. The age of consent is 16 for both homosexual and heterosexual acts.[12]

Constitutional rights[edit]

The Constitution of the Republic of China does not expressly mention sexual orientation or gender identity; however, the Constitutional Court ruling on same-sex marriage in 2017 (i.e. Judicial Yuan Interpretation No. 748), based on the following two articles of the Constitution, has confirmed the following constitutional protections for LGBT people:

Article 7 of the Constitution states that "all citizens of the Republic of China, irrespective of sex, religion, race, class, or party affiliation, shall be equal before the law".[13] In the constitutional interpretation issued on 24 May 2017, the Constitutional Court reasoned that the prohibited grounds of discrimination listed in the Article are "illustrative, rather than exhaustive", so the right to equal protection applies to other classifications "such as disability or sexual orientation".[6]

Article 22 of the Constitution stipulates that "all other freedoms and rights of the people that are not detrimental to social order or public welfare shall be guaranteed under the Constitution".[14] The Grand Justices ruled on 24 May 2017 that the freedom of marriage guaranteed by the Article applies to persons of all sexual orientations.[6]

According to Judicial Yuan Interpretation No. 185, "the interpretations of the Judicial Yuan shall be binding upon every institution and person in the country".[15]

Recognition of same-sex relationships[edit]

In October 2003, the Executive Yuan proposed legislation granting the right to marry and adopt to same-sex couples, but it faced bipartisan opposition from members of both the Cabinet (formed by the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, DPP) and the Legislative Yuan (controlled by the Kuomintang-led Pan-blue coalition) and stalled, and thus not voted on.[16][17]

In 2011, aiming to promote awareness about same-sex marriage, about 80 lesbian couples held Taiwan's then biggest same-sex wedding party, attracting about 1,000 friends, relatives and curious onlookers.[18] In 2012, the first same-sex Buddhist wedding was held for Fish Huang and her partner You Ya-ting, with Buddhist master Shih Chao-hui presiding over the ritual.[19][20] In 2013, Chen Ching-hsueh and Kao Chih-Wei, the second Taiwanese same-sex couple to wed publicly, dropped a prolonged fight to have their marriage legally recognized, citing intense social pressure.[21][22] Later that year, lifelong gay activist Chi Chia-wei picked up Chen and Kao's fight to have same-sex marriage recognized, presenting his case in the Taipei High Administrative Court for the first time.[23]

On 22 December 2014, a proposed amendment to the Civil Code which would have legalized same-sex marriage was due to go under review by the Judiciary Committee of the Legislative Yuan. If the amendment had passed the committee stage, it would then have been voted on at the plenary session of the Legislative Yuan in 2015. The amendment included replacing the current articles regarding marriage in the Civil Code with gender-neutral terms, effectively recognizing same-sex marriage. It would have also allowed same-sex couples to adopt children. Yu Mei-nu of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) had expressed support for the amendment, together with more than 20 other DPP lawmakers as well as two from the Taiwan Solidarity Union and one each from the ruling party Kuomintang (KMT) and the People First Party.[24] Taiwan would have become the first Asian state (and non-UN recognized entity) to legally recognize same-sex marriage if the Civil Code had been amended. However, the bill stalled, and the attempt officially failed in January 2016 as the Eighth Legislative Yuan ended.

In November 2015, around two months before the general election, presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen announced her support for same-sex marriage.[25] In July 2016, several lawmakers of the Ninth Legislative Yuan announced that they would introduce a same-sex marriage bill in Parliament by the end of the year.[26] In October, two same-sex marriage bills were introduced to the Legislative Yuan.[27]

Registration of same-sex couples[edit]

In May 2015, the special municipality of Kaohsiung announced a plan to allow same-sex couples to apply for a remark of their partnership on the computerized household register, largely for reference only. It would be of little use when a person wishes to grant consent to surgery on the partner's behalf at hospitals, for instance. Taiwan LGBT Rights Advocacy, an NGO, criticized the plan as merely a measure to "make fun of" the community without having any substantive effect.[28]

On 17 June 2015, the special municipality of Taipei became the second jurisdiction in Taiwan to implement a relationship register scheme for couples.[29] Taichung followed suit in October 2015,[30] Tainan and New Taipei on 1 February 2016,[31][32] Chiayi on 1 March 2016,[33] Taoyuan on 14 March 2016,[34] both Changhua County and Hsinchu County on 1 April 2016,[35][36] Yilan County on 20 May 2016,[37] and Chiayi County on 20 October 2016.[38] By early July 2017, Hsinchu City, Keelung City, Kinmen County, Lienchiang County, Miaoli County, Nantou County and Pingtung County had begun offering household registration services for same-sex partnerships.[39] Starting from 3 July 2017, residents living in the remaining counties which refused to provide same-sex partnership registration, including Yunlin County, Hualien County, Taitung County and Penghu County, could register their partnership in other cities or counties, as the technicality of registration became standardized by the Ministry of the Interior on the national level.[40] By June 2017, a total of 2,233 same-sex couples (i.e. 4,466 individuals) were registered, of which 1,755 were lesbian couples.[41]

In the current practice, any two unmarried persons of the same sex can apply, in person, to any household registration office (except in the four counties mentioned above) to have their partnership recorded on the computerized household register. However, this information will not be displayed on either the National Identification Card or the Household Certificate (the latter shows the basic personal information of all individuals registered under the same address and the relationship between these individuals). Instead, the household registration office issues a letter to the applicants certifying the registration. Kaohsiung and Taipei municipalities also issue partnership cards.[42][43] Citizens with a foreign partner are also eligible for registration, but the foreign partner needs to provide a Certificate of No Marriage Record, or equivalent, from the country of origin and have it authenticated by the respective embassy or representative office of Taiwan.[44]

Nevertheless, the same-sex partnership registration, being an administrative measure, does not confer any actual legal status to a same-sex couple. The protections offered to same-sex partners are very limited, such as the right of requesting family care leave, applying for public housing as a family unit (in Taipei only) and granting consent to surgery on the partner's behalf.[45]

Constitutional Court ruling and referendum[edit]

On 24 March 2017, the Constitutional Court heard a case brought by gay rights activist Chi Chia-wei (whose attempt at registering a marriage with his partner in 2013 was rejected) and the Taipei City Government's Department of Civil Affairs. Both petitioners had requested a constitutional interpretation on the issue. The Court decided to issue a judgment on whether the current Civil Code in fact allows same-sex marriage and if not, whether it violates articles under the Constitution of the Republic of China pertaining to equal rights and the freedom to marry. Those who appeared before the Court on that day included counsels of both petitioners, Justice Minister Chiu Tai-san (who defended the existing laws on marriage) and a panel of legal scholars. This was the first time a Constitutional Court hearing was broadcast live.[46][47][48]

The Constitutional Court ruled on 24 May 2017 that the clauses pertaining to marriage in the Civil Code were unconstitutional. The panel of judges gave the Parliament (Legislative Yuan) two years to amend or enact new laws, which would make Taiwan the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage. The Court further stipulated that should the Legislative Yuan fail to legalize same-sex marriage within two years, same-sex couples would be able to marry by going through the existing marriage registration procedure at any household registration office.[6][49]

On 24 November 2018, Taiwanese voters were presented with five LGBT-related initiatives: to ban same-sex marriage (Question 10), to ban LGBT-inclusive sex education in schools (Question 11), to allow another type of union for same-sex couples (Question 12), to allow same-sex marriage (Question 14), and lastly to retain LGBT-inclusive sex education in schools (Question 15).[11][50] Three of these questions were submitted by opponents of LGBT rights and the other two were submitted by advocates of LGBT rights.[51] Voters rejected the idea of same-sex marriage, passing Questions 10, 11, and 12 and rejecting Questions 14 and 15.[52] However, the Taiwan Government was still legally bound to provide legislation that complied with the Constitutional Court ruling. Instead of changing the existing Civil Code, legislators were expected to pass a separate law for same-sex couples.[53]

Approval by the Legislative Yuan[edit]

On 21 February 2019, the Executive Yuan passed a draft bill, entitled the Enforcement Act of Judicial Yuan Interpretation No. 748 (Chinese: 司法院釋字第748號解釋施行法), which was released on the previous day. The draft bill serves as the legal basis for same-sex marriages and was sent to the Legislative Yuan for fast-tracked review before being enacted on 24 May 2019.[54] The draft bill confers to same-sex married couples almost all the rights granted to heterosexual married couples under the Civil Code, but it only allows same-sex couples to adopt children that are genetically related to one of them.[55]

On 17 May 2019, the Legislative Yuan approved the same-sex marriage bill.[56] President Tsai Ing-wen signed the bill into law on 22 May 2019 and it came into effect on 24 May. The country therefore became the first in Asia to open marriage to same-sex couples.

The bill, submitted by the Executive Yuan, and approved by the Legislative Yuan, lets same-sex couples join an "exclusive permanent union" and apply for a "marriage registration" with government agencies. Two other bills, backed by conservative lawmakers who sought to refer to partnerships as "same-sex family relationships" or "same-sex unions" rather than "marriages", were submitted to lawmakers and debated.[57] 2,939 same-sex marriages occurred in 2019, the first year same-sex couples were allowed to marry.[58]

Adoption and family planning[edit]

Same-sex couples are able to legally adopt. However, they can only adopt the biological child of their same-sex partner (so-called stepchild adoptions).[59] Taiwan law only allows for married people to adopt, but also allows single individuals to adopt, depending on the circumstances,[60] including individual LGBT people.[61] The same-sex marriage law (that passed the Legislative Yuan in May 2019) grants married same-sex couples the right to adopt children genetically related to one of the partners.[54]

Under the Artificial Reproduction Act (Chinese: 人工生殖法), assisted reproductive technologies are available only to heterosexual married couples.[62] However, the Taiwan IVF Group, which has worked in collaboration with the Stanford University Fertility & Reproductive Health Center in the United States, has operated at least one center which has provided IVF access and sperm surrogacy to individual gays and lesbians in Taiwan since the 1990s.[63]

Discrimination protections[edit]

Discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and other gender-related attributes in education has been banned since June 2004 when the Gender Equity Education Act (Chinese: 性別平等敎育法) was passed. Specifically, schools that discriminate against students due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, in terms of admission, instruction, assessment, etc., are subject to a fine of NT$100,000.[64] In June 2011, new clauses on sexual bullying were added to the Act. Schools are obliged to prevent and report bullying that is directed at a person's sexual orientation or gender identity.[65]

In 2007 and 2008, the Legislative Yuan passed amendments to two employment laws banning discrimination based on sexual orientation at work.[66][67][68] Any employer who breaches the anti-discrimination clauses in the Employment Service Act (Chinese: 就業服務法) or the Act of Gender Equality in Employment (Chinese: 性別工作平等法) could face a fine of NT$300,000 to NT$1,500,000.[69][70]

In March 2010, the Ministry of Education announced that, starting from 2011, school curriculum and textbooks would include topics on LGBT rights and nondiscrimination. According to the Ministry, the reform seeks to "root out discrimination", since "students should be able to grow up happily in an environment of tolerance and respect".[71] Due to strong opposition from anti-LGBT groups, a compromise was made. For instance, one teaching objective was changed from "understanding one's sexual orientation" to "respecting diverse sexual orientations".[72] In November 2018, following a referendum, Education Minister Yeh Jiunn-rong said that the approval of the initiative ("Do you agree that the Ministry of Education and individual schools should not teach homosexual-related education in schools?") does not mean that the Ministry of Education will stop promoting gender equality education, but LGBT-related content will be reviewed to see if it needs revising in accordance with the referendum results.[73]

The Long-Term Care Services Act (Chinese: 長期照顧服務法), enacted in January 2017 to regulate long-term care services for persons with illness or disability who cannot live fully independently, contains an anti-discrimination clause that covers sexual orientation and gender identity.[74]

In 2017, the Taiwanese Constitutional Court, also known as the Judicial Yuan, issued J.Y. Interpretation No. 748, which stated that Article 7 of the Constitution prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.[75] The ruling stated that "the five classifications of impermissible discrimination set forth in Article 7 of the Constitution are only exemplified, neither enumerated nor exhausted. Therefore, different treatments based on other classifications, such as disability or sexual orientation, shall also be governed by the right to equality under the said Article."[75]

Transgender rights[edit]

In 2002, transgender activist Tsai Ya-Ting unsuccessfully petitioned the Presidential office to allow her to use a photo that represented her actual appearance on her National Identification Card.[76]

In 2008, the Ministry of the Interior stipulated in an executive order that transgender and intersex people must undergo sex reassignment surgery in order to change their legal gender on personal documents.[77] Plans to remove the surgery requirement were discussed in late 2014, but were not implemented.[77][78]

In August 2013, Taiwanese authorities accepted a request for the country's first transgender marriage, after initially questioning the couple's gender.[79]

In August 2016, Audrey Tang, a top software programmer, was appointed by the Tsai Administration to the Cabinet and became the first transgender minister of Taiwan. Her role as the Minister without portfolio (i.e. heading no particular ministry) deals with helping government agencies communicate policy goals and managing government-published information, both via digital means.[80]

In January 2018, it was announced that plans to introduce a third gender option on identification documents, such as passports and the National Identification cards, would be implemented in the near future.[81] In November 2018, Chen Mei-ling, the Minister of the National Development Council, announced that these plans will come into effect in 2020.[82]

A 2020 survey found that 55% of transgender Taiwanese were afraid of using a public restroom, 19% had been harassed or attacked in public, and 16% were afraid to ask a police officer for help.[83]

Conversion therapy[edit]

On 13 May 2016, the Health Bureau of the Taichung City Government announced that medical institutions in Taichung are prohibited from engaging in conversion therapy. According to Shader Liu, a member of Taichung's Gender Equality Committee, any group – medical, civil or religious – that practices it is violating the Physicians Act (Chinese: 醫師法) and the Psychologists Act (Chinese: 心理師法), respectively. The committee made a request to the Ministry of Health and Welfare to make the new rule applicable nationwide, so as to eliminate the practice.[84]

On 30 December 2016, the Ministry of Health and Welfare announced that it would draft an amendment to the Physicians Act to prohibit conversion therapy. The Taiwanese Society of Psychiatry and human rights groups recommended that conversion therapy be banned. Members of the public had the opportunity to offer their opinions on the draft amendment for 60 days, after which the Ministry would issue regulations. The regulations were expected to bypass Parliament in late January 2017 and take effect in March 2017.[85][86] According to the Physicians Act, doctors who engage in prohibited treatments are subject to fines of between NT$100,000 (US$3,095) to NT$500,000 (US$15,850) and may be suspended for one month to one year.[87] However, the proposed regulations were stalled by fierce resistance from anti-LGBT groups.[88]

Instead of pushing ahead legal amendments or new regulations, on 22 February 2018, the Ministry of Health and Welfare issued a letter to all local health authorities, which effectively banned conversion therapy.[89] In the letter, the Ministry states that sexual orientation conversion is not regarded as a legitimate healthcare practice and that any individual performing the so-called therapy is liable to prosecution under the Criminal Code or the Protection of Children and Youths Welfare and Rights Act (Chinese: 兒童及少年福利與權益保障法), depending on the circumstances.[90]

Military service[edit]

Lesbian, gay and bisexual people have been able to serve openly in the military since 2002.[91]

Blood donation[edit]

In December 2016, the Center for Disease Control announced that it would lift the lifelong ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood. The Taiwan Blood Services Foundation commented that other exclusion criteria provided adequate safeguards against unsafe blood.[92]

In March 2018, the Government gazetted, for a two-month public consultation, amendments to the Standards on Assessing Donor Suitability for Blood Donation that included allowing gay and bisexual men who have not had sex with another man for five years to donate blood.[93][94] A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health and Welfare said that the abstinence period would be further reduced to one year in the future, so as to bring the Taiwanese standard in line with Western countries.[95]

Since 2018, Taiwan has permitted gay and bisexual men to donate blood following five years of abstinence from sex.[96]

Living conditions and gay life in Taiwan[edit]

Taiwan Pride 2005
The 2016 edition of Taiwan Pride

On 1 November 2003, Taiwan Pride, the first LGBT pride parade in the Chinese-speaking world, was held in Taipei, with over 1,000 people attending.[97] It has taken place annually since then. In the early years, many participants wore masks to hide their identity because homosexuality remained a social taboo in Taiwan. This has gradually changed over the years. The 2010 parade attracted 30,000 attendees and increased media and political attention, highlighting the growing acceptance of LGBT people in Taiwan. Since 2010, there has also been a pride parade in Kaohsiung; the first pride in the city attracted over 2,000 people.[98] The city of Taichung also holds pride parades, with the 2016 one attracting a crowd of 20,000 people.[99] The 2017 Taiwan Pride parade was attended by an estimated 123,000 people.[100] The 2018 parade was attended by 137,000 people.[11]

Representations of LGBT people in literary and cinematic works are also instrumental in promoting public awareness of LGBT people and advancing LGBT rights in Taiwan. In the 1970s, some novels regarding homosexuality were published. One of the most prominent writers is Pai Hsien-yung, who introduced gay characters in his novels, the most famous being Crystal Boys. More recently, some gay TV series and movies have been produced and have gained great attention among gay communities in both Taiwan and China. Examples include the TV series Crystal Boys, adapted from Pai Hsien-yung's novel by the same title, and the movie Formula 17. In 2005, Taiwanese director, Ang Lee, directed the gay Western film Brokeback Mountain, receiving high critical acclaim and Academy Awards. Spider Lilies, a lesbian film directed by Zero Chou, was screened at the 2007 Berlin International Film Festival. It won the Teddy Award for best gay feature film.

In the days following the same-sex marriage referendum, suicide hotlines saw a 40% increase among LGBT people, especially youth.[101]

Rabbit God[edit]

Tu'er Shen (兔兒神), also known as the Rabbit God (兔神), is the Taoist (Chinese folk religion) matchmaker god for homosexual relations, and is a deity of homosexual love. In 2006, Lu Wei-ming founded a temple for Tu'er Shen in Yonghe District in New Taipei City.[102] About 9,000 gay pilgrims visit the temple each year for praying, particularly for a partner. The temple also performs marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples. It is the world's only religious shrine for gay individuals.[103]

Public opinion[edit]

A poll of 6,439 adults released in April 2006 by the National Union of Taiwan Women's Association/Constitutional Reform Alliance concluded that 75% believed "homosexual relations are acceptable", while 25% thought "they are unacceptable".[104]

A 2013 online poll showed that 53% of Taiwanese supported same-sex marriage. According to the online poll, 76% were in favor of equal rights for gays and lesbians.[105]

In May 2015, PlanetRomeo, an LGBT social network, published its first Gay Happiness Index (GHI). Gay men from over 120 countries were asked about how they feel about society's view on homosexuality, how they experience the way they are treated by other people and how satisfied they are with their lives. Taiwan was ranked 34th with a GHI score of 54.[106]

A 2015 online poll showed that 59% of respondents approved legislation allowing same-sex couples to establish "marriage-like" relations, with 75% supporting same-sex marriage.[107]

Summary table[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity legal Yes (Always legal)
Equal age of consent Yes (Always equal)
Anti-discrimination laws in employment Yes (Since 2007)
Anti-discrimination laws in education Yes (Since 2004)
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services Yes (Since 2017)
Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech) Yes (Since 2017)
Same-sex marriage Yes (Since 2019)[108]
Recognition of same-sex couples Yes (Nationwide since 2019)
Stepchild adoption by same-sex couples Yes (Since 2019)
Joint adoption by same-sex couples No
Adoption by single people regardless of sexual orientation Yes
LGB people allowed to serve in the military Yes (Since 2002)
Transgender people allowed to serve openly in the military No
Right to change legal gender Yes (Since 2008, but requires sex reassignment surgery)
Third gender option Yes (Since 2020)
Intersex minors protected from invasive surgical procedures No
Conversion therapy banned by law Yes (Since 2018)
Homosexuality declassified as an illness Yes
Access to IVF for lesbian couples No (Heterosexual married couples may access IVF treatments only)
Automatic parenthood for both spouses after birth No
Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples No (Banned for heterosexual couples as well)[109]
MSMs allowed to donate blood No/Yes (5 year deferral period since May 2018)

See also[edit]


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