Taiwan to hold first gay weddings in historic day for Asia

Taipei (AFP) –


Taiwan's first official same-sex weddings will take place later Friday in a landmark moment for LGBT rights in Asia, a week after lawmakers took the historic decision to legalise gay marriage.

Hundreds of couples across the island are expected to turn up at government offices on Friday morning to register their relationships as marriages, the first time they have been able to legally wed.

Taiwan made history last week when it became the first place in Asia to legalise gay marriage, sparking jubilation among huge crowds of gay rights supporters on the streets of Taipei.

But the issue has also caused deep divisions on an island that remains staunchly conservative, especially outside of the cities and among older generations.

In Taipei more than 150 same-sex couples are scheduled to register on Friday, according to local authorities. The city hall will co-host an outdoor wedding party near the famous Taipei 101 skyscraper, with local and foreign dignitaries expected to attend.

Among those tying the knot will be social worker Huang Mei-yu, who will be marrying her partner You Ya-ting.

"I am feeling nervous even though we already had a ceremony in 2012," she told AFP, referring to a religious blessing conducted by a progressive Buddhist master.

"But I am also very happy as it's faster than I had expected. I had thought I would have to wait 10 more years," she added.

Legal recognition of their love, Huang said, was a crucial step and might help others accept the relationship.

"Now that same-sex marriage is legally recognised, I think my parents might finally feel that it's real and stop trying to talk me into getting married (to a man)," she said.

For veteran gay rights activist Chi Chia-wei, Friday's weddings are the culmination of a three-decade long fight trying to persuade successive governments to change the law.

It was Chi who eventually petitioned Taiwan's Constitutional Court leading to a 2017 judgement that denying same-sex couples the right to marry was unconstitutional.

Facing an imminent court deadline, parliament finally passed a bill last Friday allowing same-sex couples to form "exclusive permanent unions" and another clause that would let them apply for a "marriage registration" with government agencies.

"I feel very happy that same-sex couples can finally register and be listed as each other's spouse. I am honoured to witness Friday's marriage registrations," he told AFP.

- Conservative pushback -

Conservatives put forward rival bills that offered something closer to limited same-sex unions but those measures failed.

However, the new law still has restrictions not faced by heterosexual couples.

Same-sex couples can currently only adopt their partners' biological children and can only wed foreigners from countries where gay marriage is also recognised.

Conservative and religious groups were buoyed by a series of referendum wins in November, in which voters comprehensively rejected defining marriage as anything other than a union between a man and a woman.

Opponents have vowed to punish President Tsai Ing-wen and the lawmakers who supported the gay marriage law at January's elections when Taiwanese will elect both a new president and a new parliament.