What Taiwan legalising same-sex marriages means to my family
By Hoe I Yune, May 28, 2020
Taiwan became the first nation in Asia to legalise same-sex marriages on May 24, 2019. This was a step forward for LGBTQIA+ rights as lawmakers passed a bill allowing same-sex couples to form “exclusive permanent unions” and another clause that would let them register marriage with government agencies.
What set the ball rolling was the Constitutional Court’s historic ruling in 2017. It stipulated that same-sex marriage should be a constitutional right and legislators were given two years to bring it into effect.
Conservatives pushed back, disagreeing that same-sex couples be granted the same rights as heterosexual couples. This led to the 2017 ruling being upheld, and instead of giving same-sex couples equal treatment on all matters, a separate law was passed. The separate law grants same-sex couples the right to marry but with limitations in areas such as parenting and transnational marriages. This was called The Act for Implementation of J.Y. Interpretation No. 748.
More than 3,500 same-sex couples have tied the knot in Taiwan according to the Ministry of the Interior statistics, as of May 1, 2020. One of these couples are Taiwanese citizens 37-year-old video editor Xiao Yu and 29-year-old graphic and space designer City.
Xiao Yu shares with us what it meant for her to be able to marry the love of her life on home ground and what they hope for the future.
Mothers to a beautiful one-month-old baby girl, they are out and proud. But when it comes to parenting and adoption rights, they point out that we are only at the beginning of equality.
Being bisexual with a female partner and living in Taipei, Taiwan, I didn’t think I could have it all.
Before same-sex marriages were recognised in the eyes of the law, I thought I would have to choose between one or the other — to be with the woman I love or settle down with a man and start a family.
My wife City and I first met on a lesbian dating app in 2016, and we hit it off so well that I invited her over after a day of texting.
She brought along a bottle of wine to my place, which struck me as a bit pretentious. But she came across as someone really cool and genuine. Even though she is eight years younger than me, I really enjoyed hanging out with her. We talked all the way until 4am and she wound up crashing in a spare room.
A week later, she moved in with me. We weren’t a couple yet but wanted to get to know each other better. My home had more than enough space, whereas hers was under renovation and her family of four was crammed in a two-room apartment.
Over the next few weeks, she bought me flowers and earrings or surprised me with coffee because I often worked late. She was healing from a bad breakup and I was drawn towards her candour and openness.
If you told me then that City and I would be able to get married legally three years later, I’m not sure I would have believed you. Legality aside, I was 33, she was only 25, and I kept thinking how young she was. To buy myself more time, I made the decision to freeze my eggs even though the procedure would cost around NTD100,000 (SGD4,743) just for the egg retrieval surgery.
Although I’ve known that I was attracted to women since I was 15, it was only when I was 33 (before meeting City) that I came out to my parents. Losing my brother to gastric cancer made me realise that I wanted to be true to myself and for my parents to know who I really am.
My mum was quicker to accept me as I am but my dad was initially resistant to it. He believed that a man would do a better job of looking after me, to which I argued that there are also many guys out there who are unreliable and unfaithful so that’s not necessarily true. We never brought it up again and he quietly accepted my choice.
The thing about my dad is, although he never outright supported my sexuality, he and my mum have never objected to me bringing girlfriends home. When I introduced them to City, they treated her like a daughter too. They’re not as open as City’s parents are in that they won’t tell other people that I’m bisexual or introduce City as my wife, but my dad would call City his “second daughter” or say “she is family”. To me, it’s enough. I know that as conservative as he is, my dad loves me and his protectiveness comes from a good place.
The reason why it took me so long to share my sexuality with them is because I didn’t want to dash my parents’ dreams for me, and I too, coveted a “normal life”. I thought that to have a child, I had to first settle down with a man. I have always wanted to be a mum and when my brother passed away, I felt a stronger sense of duty to continue the family lineage. But my relationships with men just didn’t work out.
When I met City, my relationship with her was meant to be a short-term fling. But the more that I got to know her, the more certain I was that I wouldn’t find another like her. We have such strong chemistry and common values. Not only is she romantic but she can tolerate my bad temper and loves me even when I don’t love myself. I realised that I wanted a future with her.
I wrestled between how I thought I wanted to live in society and how I truly felt. My friends have always accepted me but there were times when I concealed my sexuality to avoid trouble. If I was talking to someone older who might have a more traditional mindset and they ask if I have a boyfriend, I wouldn’t reveal that my partner is a woman. I was once scolded “fuck off, freak!” by a stranger, even though all I was doing was holding hands with a girlfriend while strolling in the park.
In May 2017, Taiwan’s high court passed a resolution that it was unconstitutional to ban same-sex couples for getting married and the ruling gave legislators a two-year deadline to enshrine marriage equality into law. It was such an exciting time for us! Even though activists had been campaigning for same-sex marriages to be legal for years, this was the first time it was actually acknowledged by the authorities as a possibility.
I was already convinced that I would go with my heart and be with City, regardless of what society thought. But to have the law on our side was a big deal. It gave me the confidence boost to know that I could do what I want without having to worry about what others might think.
Before the bill was passed, Taiwan was already hosting the largest Pride parade in Asia. Same-sex couples could also register their relationship at household registration offices in most cities, including Taipei. But this was more symbolic than anything else as it carried no legal weight. City and I did this back in 2018 as a way of taking our relationship to the next level. However the registered partnership was not reflected in our identification cards or household registration certificates. It did not grant us inheritance rights and to give consent for a partner’s surgery, we still had to sign a separate data-sharing agreement.
In heteronormative marriages, husbands and wives are able to make decisions for each other and be each other’s emergency contact. But prior to 2019, homosexual couples like us were unable to make medical decisions for each other or inherit assets without going the extra mile.
Whenever I preferred women to men growing up, I would wish I was “normal”. I was attracted to men but I was attracted to women too, and for only one to be recognised as “acceptable”, I felt like I had to hold back who I really am. Taiwan recognising same-sex marriages as legal made me feel seen and unafraid. I finally felt like I didn’t have to compromise anymore.
There had been pushback from the conservative groups. After the May 2017 ruling, three referendums were proposed by conservatives and put forward to Taiwanese voters in November 2018. They called into question whether same-sex marriages should be granted the same legal protection as heterosexual marriages.
There were a lot of campaigns and baseless rumours on same-sex marriages being circulated on social media. One in particular linked same-sex marriage with HIV and insinuated that HIV-positive homosexual foreigners would marry Taiwanese men in order to take advantage of our healthcare system. It was sad and disheartening to read messages such as these but Taiwan’s National Health Insurance Administration debunked the high cost of HIV/AIDS treatment mentioned in these messages and clarified that foreign spouses won’t automatically be entitled to free healthcare.
Religious conservative groups went as far as to buy television and newspaper advertisements to broadcast how not having a father and mother will confuse young children. Many of our queer friends felt even more self-conscious after seeing homophobic propaganda and misinformation being spread on mainstream media.
As frustrating as it was, deep down I remained hopeful because I’ve always believed in Taiwan and our democracy. It might seem discouraging when you focus on the setbacks but I looked at the silver linings. There might have been 7 million voters opposed to granting us the same rights as heterosexual couples but there were 3 million whom supported us and not all of them are members of the LGBTQIA+ community themselves.
Despite it seeming like many don’t see us as equals, there are also people on our side. It moved me because I think baby steps have a part to play in progressing towards greater equality.
City and I hope to have a wedding ceremony one day but we prioritised having a baby first. It might sound unusual, but starting a family has always been important to us. Even before the bill was passed, we were already looking into adoption and in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment.
The bill grants same-sex married couples almost all the rights available to heterosexual married couples under the Civil Code but there are limitations, such as only allowing the adoption of a child if the child is genetically related to one of us. Because of this, City and I chose to conceive a baby through IVF. I carried our baby but we combined City’s egg with a donor’s sperm. We really wanted to both be a part of the pregnancy journey. However even though our baby carries City's DNA, City still had to register to be recognised as her mum too. It was akin to an adoption process.
There is a bit more explaining to do when we meet people for the first time, and strangers are curious about us as a couple and how our baby was conceived. But we appreciate the ability to have an open conversation.
Once, City and I were at a nail salon when two older women asked if we were siblings. It felt so good to be able to tell them we had just gotten married. Over the past year, I’ve felt a lot more liberated to be myself.
Maybe there are some people out there who feel obligated to accept us and would hold their tongue even if they disagree with our life choices, but at least now we feel more free to be ourselves.
It might take another 10 or 20 years for us to achieve equality and have the same rights as heterosexual couples, but we hope for the day when we and our future children are recognised as family without having to go through an adoption process like City had to do with Dou-Dou. The law on parenting aside, we are also campaigning for Taiwan to allow transnational same-sex marriages. Presently, the foreign partner must be from another country where same-sex marriage is legal.
City and I want to do our part by donating to causes that we believe in and sharing our story. I used to worry about what others might think when they hear her call me her wife but seeing the support that we’ve garnered as a community, I’ve realised that if I want others to stand with me, I need to first be brave and speak up for what I believe in. Just a few years ago, I thought I had to be someone I’m not in order to fulfil my dream of marriage and a child, but I don’t have to anymore. For that, I am hopeful.
Photos were provided by Xiao Yu and City (Instagram:/@momomgood). The interview was conducted in Mandarin and translated into English.
Xiao Yu and City are vocal in their support for LGBTQIA+ groups such as the non-governmental organisations Taiwan Tongzhi (LGBTQ+) Hotline Association and the Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights (TAPCPR). Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association helps individuals and their family members better understand issues faced by the community and was whom City’s mum turned to for support when she came out in her teens. TAPCPR is currently campaigning for all transnational same-sex marriages to be legal in Taiwan. Find out more here: https://tapcpr.org/i/seausoon
My name is I Yune, and you can find me at @i_yune on the Dayre app. On my personal account, I write about what being in love and loved means to me.
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