Taiwan has become the first country in Asia to legalise gay marriage after a vote on Friday
The vote has come almost two years after the island's Constitutional Court ruled that the existing law - describing marriage as the union between a man and a woman - was unlawful. The panel of judges gave the island's parliament two years to amend or enact new laws - the deadline being 24 May this year.
With only a week left until the deadline, lawmakers debated three different bills to legalise same-sex unions. Two bills, submitted by conservative lawmakers, referred to partnerships as “same-sex family relationships” or “same-sex unions” rather than “marriages”.
But, the government's own bill, the most progressive of the three - the only one to use the word ‘marriage’ and the only one to offer limited adoption rights - was passed by 66 to 27 votes. The vote means that same-sex couples will now have full legal marriage rights, including in areas such as taxes, insurance and child custody.
The successful bill was backed by LGBTQ groups, despite the fact it could see same-sex couples denied rights enjoyed by heterosexual couples, such as adoption and cross-national marriage.
Taiwan’s LGBT community has been left in a state of limbo over the past two years. Many couples were planning weddings ahead of the 24 May deadline, still unsure of what marriage equality would look like. So, with huge anticipation, hundreds of gay rights supporters gathered in the rain outside the parliament building in the capital, Taipei, to await the landmark ruling.
Taiwan's acceptance of gay and lesbian relationships began in the 1990s when leaders in today's ruling Democratic Progressive Party championed the cause to help Taiwan stand out in Asia as an open society.
However, although the island has a large gay community and its annual gay pride parade is the biggest in Asia, Taiwanese society has been hugely divided by the issue of marriage equality. In a controversial referendum in November last year, 67% of voters rejected same-sex marriage.
So today is a historic day - for the people of Taiwan and LGBTQ supporters around the world - coincidentally, falling on the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. This move should act as a signal for change for other Asian countries, to ensure equality in law for every citizen.