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Historic First For Asia: Taiwan Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage


Today brought a first in Asia. Taiwan's Parliament has approved a bill legalizing same-sex marriage. The landmark decision makes the self-ruled island the first place in Asia to pass gay marriage legislation. NPR's Anthony Kuhn is following this from South Korea and joins us now.

So how did this happen, Anthony?

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Well, the law that was passed today was the result of a ruling by Taiwan's constitutional court. And the court said in 2017 that the country's civil code was unconstitutional because it defines marriage as being between a man and a woman. The court says, no, actually, people have the right to marry whomever they like as a matter of basic human dignity.

So the court gave the legislature two years to either amend that civil code, and if not, then same-sex marriages would automatically become legal. What happened was that the legislature decided to just draft a whole new law. And they ended up with three competing drafts, which differed on details such as, you know, who could be adopted by same-sex couples, what age they could form a legally recognized relationship. And in the end, the legislature picked the most liberal, the most lenient of all three drafts.

We should also say that a lot of credit for this goes to campaigners, activists, who have been fighting for this for decades. One particular guy, a man named Chi Chia-wei, has been fighting this - fighting for this since the mid-1980s, when Taiwan was under martial law. And his lawsuit led to today's decision.

MARTIN: But there have been activists on the other side - right? - people against same-sex marriage.

KUHN: That's right. Anti-same-sex-marriage activists have also campaigned hard. And last November, a group called the Alliance For The Next Generation's Happiness (ph), which is an umbrella group of Christian civic organizations, put a nonbinding referendum before Taiwanese. And it passed overwhelmingly. It was against same-sex marriages. And it was against LGBT issues as part of national school curricula.


KUHN: And despite this...


KUHN: ...We should mention that, actually, recent polls have continued to show that a majority of Taiwanese are in favor of legalizing same-sex marriages.

MARTIN: Well, that's actually what I was going to ask. If this new law - does it reflect a big shift in Taiwanese culture and how people think about this issue?

KUHN: Yes, it does. And it's important to note that Taiwan really is at the forefront of Asia on these sorts of issues. If you look at things that are sort of like measures of traditional society structure - family structure - such as childbearing outside of marriage, cohabitation, Taiwan is way out in front. On births outside of marriage, for example, they're at 4% compared to - such as, you know, France in the EU, which is about 60%. So compared to other places, it's a lot less. But in Asia, it definitely leads.

MARTIN: NPR's Anthony Kuhn for us this morning, talking about this new landmark law in Taiwan legalizing same-sex marriage.

Anthony, thanks. We appreciate it.

KUHN: You're welcome, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.