In a setback for LGBT advocates, voters in Taiwan have backed a series of initiatives opposing marriage equality, dealing a major blow to the island’s reputation as a rights trailblazer.
A referendum on whether marriage should be recognised only as “the union between one man and one woman” in Taiwan’s Civil Code won more than seven million votes on Saturday.
Another vote, calling for same-sex unions to be regulated under a separate law, gained the support of more than six million people.
Gay rights activists had proposed that the Civil Code should give same-sex couples equal marriage rights, but only garnered three million votes.
Taiwan’s top court legalised same-sex marriage in May 2017, the first place in Asia to do so.
The court said its ruling must be implemented within two years, but the government made little progress in the face of opposition from conservative groups.
Overall, Taiwanese voters participated in 10 referendums on Saturday, apart from voting in local elections that delivered a defeat to the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and prompted President Tsai Ing-wen to resign as party leader.
Major blow to LGBT rights
|Pro-LGBT marchers took to the streets in October before the referendum [Chiang Ying-ying/AP Photo]
The Coalition for the Happiness of our Next Generation, a “pro-family” group, called the results a “victory of all people who treasure family values”.
The conservative group also beat gay rights activists on competing referendums about whether LGBT issues should be compulsory on the school curriculum.
“Everyone used every single ‘yes’ vote to tell the authorities what are the mainstream public opinions,” the coalition said.
Jennifer Lu, a spokesperson for Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan, said they were saddened by what she described as the “absurd referendums” and blamed government “incompetence” for allowing the votes to go ahead.
“The regression of gender equality deals the most severe blow to Taiwan’s democratic values,” she added.
Although the government had said the referendum results will not affect the court’s original decision to legalise gay marriage, pro-gay campaigners worry that their newly won rights will be weakened.
The court did not specify how it wanted gay marriage to be implemented, leaving room for conservative groups to call for separate regulations.
With all three conservative referendums passing the threshold of 25 percent of eligible voters, the government must take steps to reflect the result, according to the referendum law.
Last month, nearly 130,000 people in the capital, Taipei, had participated in a massive gay pride parade, the largest in Asia, in advance of the referendums.
Rights group Amnesty International had also urged the Taiwanese government not to “water down” same-sex marriage proposals in the face of a conservative win.