In a move that may have seemed shocking six months ago, Taiwan looks prepared to resoundingly vote against same-sex marriage in a national plebiscite.
On Saturday, Taiwanese voters sounded off in a first-of-its-kind referendum on LGBTQ rights. Five questions in total were on the ballot for consideration: three against LGBTQ rights (10, 11, 12), and two in support of equality (14, 15). Question 10 asked whether the Civil Code “should be restricted to the union between one man and one woman,” while Question 11 concerned whether children should be taught LGBTQ subjects in schools nationwide.
Lastly, Question 12 asked whether the government should create a separate law to protect the “rights of same-sex couples in cohabitation on a permanent basis in ways other than changing of the Civil Code.” Many have compared the proposal to civil unions or domestic partnerships.
Voters were overwhelmingly in favor of each of those proposals.
With 100 percent of precincts reporting, 69 percent of voters who cast a ballot said “Yes” to banning same-sex marriages in the Civil Code (Question 10). Sixty-four percent voted in favor of removing LGBTQ-inclusive curricula from schools (Question 11). A smaller majority—58 percent—agreed with passing a separate form of relationship recognition for same-sex couples (Question 12).
The pro-LGBTQ ballot measures weren’t nearly as lucky.
To oppose the proposals put forward by the conservative Happiness for the Next Generation Alliance, marriage equality supporters introduced two of their own. Question 14 asked if the Civil Code should also protect same-sex marriages. Question 15 concerned whether schools “should educate students on the importance of gender equality, emotional education, sex education, [and] same-sex education.”
Voters said “No” to each. Just 31 percent felt same-sex couples should be allowed to marry under the Civil Code (Question 14), while 32 percent felt that students should be taught about sexual orientation or gender identity in schools (Question 15).
More than five million votes were needed to ensure that the referendums stand. The totals crossed that threshold by nearly two million, even with many ballots left to be counted.
Overall turnout topped 54 percent—extremely high for a non-presidential vote.
At one time, marriage equality might have looked like an easy win on a self-governing island widely viewed as progressive on social issues. Polls conducted in November 2015 showed that 71 percent of Taiwanese supported same-sex marriage, the highest support for the freedom to marry of any territory in Asia.
However, the Marriage Equality Coalition was massively outspent by the opposition in a campaign that pro-LGBTQ legislator Jason Hsu called “unparalleled.”
As INTO previously reported, anti-LGBTQ groups spent $33 million fighting against equality in Taiwan. Local conservative organizations were aided by a trio of powerful U.S. hate groups in that effort: the International House of Prayer (IHOP), MassResistance, and the National Organization for Marriage (NOM). The latter was heavily involved in California’s Prop. 8.
In addition, recent reports claim that a pair of nonprofits ran by HTC Co-Founder, President, and CEO Cher Wang helped back religious groups opposing same-sex marriage. Her foundations have allegedly hosted IHOP leaders in Taiwan every year since 2013.
How much revenue went to organizations like IHOP is not known at this time.
But as Hsu told INTO this week, the vote against same-sex marriage does not mean that marriage equality has been banned in Taiwan. He claimed the referendum is strictly nonbinding, a survey of public opinion that the Legislative Yuan can choose to follow if it wishes. Last year’s successful marriage equality vote in Australia was held on similar grounds.
“The referendum itself has a symbolic meaning, but it doesn’t really have actual binding effect,” he said in a Wednesday interview.
Lawmakers will have three months to respond to the referendum.
If the legislature chooses to do nothing, marriage equality will automatically become the law of the land in Taiwan on May 29. That date marks two years since the Constitutional Court ruled that laws prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying are unconstitutional.
There has been, however, some confusion on that front, which President Tsai Ing-wen’s government will now be forced to clear up.
Earlier in the week, representatives with the Marriage Equality Coalition told INTO the vote would stand if Taiwanese citizens rejected same-sex marriage. At the time, they predicted that the freedom to marry stood a 50-50 shot of passage.
Tsai campaigned on the passage of marriage equality during her 2016 presidential run but has largely been blamed for the legislature’s inaction on the issue. Earlier this year, the president claimed society was still too divided on the issue to push forward a marriage bill—leading to conservatives proposing their own solution.
She reportedly resigned as leader of the ruling party following Saturday’s results.
Amnesty International called the referendum results a “bitter blow and a step backwards for human rights.”
“However, despite this setback, we remain confident that love and equality will ultimately prevail,” said Annie Huang, the acting director of Amnesty International in Taiwan, in a statement.
“The result must not be used as an excuse to further undermine the rights of LGBTQ people,” Huang continued. “The Taiwanese government needs to step up and take all necessary measures to deliver equality and dignity for all, regardless of who people love.”
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