Supporting Gay Marriage = Supporting Taiwan’s Soft Power

You may not like it, but it represents soft power for Taiwan

Michael Turton
Sep 26, 2018 · 5 min read
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Supporters of same-sex marriage take part in a rally outside Presidential Office Building in Taipei, Taiwan December 10, 2016. (Image: Reuters/Fabian Hamacher)

Last month Taiwan conducted its first execution under the Tsai Administration. The response from Europe and from global rights organizations was strongly negative. Amnesty International chided:

“It is deeply disappointing that Taiwan has decided to resume the implementation of a cruel punishment, especially after President Tsai Ing-wen had stated clearly that her government aims to abolish the death penalty.

Observers noted that the move hurt Taiwan’s soft power influence and gentle, progressive image abroad, especially in Western Europe, where the EU condemned the execution.

Taiwan is now making a similar error with the government dragging its feet on the legalization and the creation of a legal structure for gay marriage in Taiwan. The stagnant drive for gay marriage has permitted anti-gay groups to mount referendum drives for the coming election in November, and has hurt Taiwan’s progressive image abroad. Isabella Steger reports at Quartz:

Taiwan is the most LGBT-friendly country in Asia, and many of its citizens take pride in its progressive values, especially as none of its neighbors have made moves to legalize same-sex marriage. For many Taiwanese, burnishing the country’s achievements in human rights is also important particularly at a time when Beijing is mounting an increasingly aggressive global campaign to assert its territorial claims over the island — including an attempt to ban it from competing under the name “Taiwan” at the recent Gay Games in Paris. Many LGBT people in China, not surprisingly, look to Taiwan for inspiration in their own fight for equality in their country.

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Defying attempts by China to interfere in the proceedings of the Gay Games, Taiwanese athletes made sure their country’s flag was on full display for the international audience to see during the opening procession. (Image: Photo TGSGDMA Facebook page)

Many in Asia look to Taiwan’s progress on gay marriage as a beacon for their own country. Japan, for example, is behind Taiwan in this area and activists there look to Taiwan for inspiration.

Commenting on the moves in Taiwan, Ken Suzuki, a Meiji University professor of Chinese and Taiwanese laws, said: “They indicate that changes in education could change a society in 10 years.”

Suzuki, who was also present for the interview, was hopeful that Japan would follow the Taiwanese path to legalisation of same-sex marriage.

A piece in the Diplomat also noted the importance of Taiwan’s decision to make gay marriage constitutional in May of 2017, arguing that legalizing gay marriage by amending the civil code…

…will reaffirm that human rights, marriage equality and traditional values can coexist in Taiwan and stand as an example to other Asian countries seeking to respect this basic human right.

The existence of gay marriage in Taiwan will help stimulate progressive change in human rights across Asia, even where gay marriage itself may not exist.

This is soft power at its best: not only does gay marriage burnish Taiwan’s image, it also helps spread human rights in Asia. That helps create bonds between Taiwan and its neighbors that can generate support for Taiwan in its struggle against Chinese expansionism.

And yet, with the proposed referendums on gay marriage, and the rising opposition to gay marriage in Taiwan funded by money from conservative Christian groups in the United States, Taiwan could throw all this potential gain away by refusing to amend the civil code (Article 972 of the Civil Code, which was declared unconstitutional, states that an agreement to marry “shall be made by the male and the female parties in their own concord”) and failing to legalize gay marriage.

You may or may not like gay marriage, but amending the civil code to legalize gay marriage is important in establishing a progressive and forward-looking image for Taiwan abroad.

You may or may not like gay marriage, but amending the civil code to legalize gay marriage is important in establishing a progressive and forward-looking image for Taiwan abroad. It will help the island nation gain support from western Europe, where gay marriage is legal in some way in most nations, and from international human rights groups. It will bring the island closer to progressive forces around the globe.

Further, most conservatives who look to Taiwan as a bulwark against China and US do not care about its other progressive domestic policies, such as its national health insurance program or strict gun laws. They see the island largely in geopolitical terms. They will not care about gay marriage, either.

At the same time, those outside groups that are supporting the anti-gay marriage groups in Taiwan bring nothing to Taiwan. They will not help it resist Chinese expansionism nor build bonds with other nations around Taiwan, nor will they further contribute resources to the island after this issue is resolved. Once they have achieved their goal of suppressing gay marriage in Taiwan, they will forget about Taiwan and move on to the next nation they want to harm.

The issue is clear: your personal feelings about gay marriage should not matter because the larger international political context is more important. In this case, whatever you might feel, you should support amending the civil code to legalize gay marriage, because supporting gay marriage means supporting Taiwan.

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American Citizens for Taiwan | 美臺會

Helping Americans understand the importance of Taiwan to…

Michael Turton

Written by

Michael Turton is a longtime expat in Taiwan, who operates the well known blog The View from Taiwan on Taiwan politics, history, and culture.

American Citizens for Taiwan | 美臺會

Helping Americans understand the importance of Taiwan to the United States

Michael Turton

Written by

Michael Turton is a longtime expat in Taiwan, who operates the well known blog The View from Taiwan on Taiwan politics, history, and culture.

American Citizens for Taiwan | 美臺會

Helping Americans understand the importance of Taiwan to the United States

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