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Politics

Taiwan takes first step toward same-sex marriage

Legislative panel clears bill as protesters rally

Gay rights activists cheer outside Taiwan's parliament after legislation on same-sex marriage passed its first reading.

TAIPEI -- The first draft of a bill on same-sex marriage won approval from the parliament's judiciary committee on Monday, opening up the possibility of Taiwan becoming the first in the Asia-Pacific region to let gay couples wed.

Following its successful first reading, the bill will undergo cross-party negotiations. But it has also drawn protests, and whether it will become law remains uncertain.

Yu Mei-nu, a member of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party and a key sponsor of the bill, told the Nikkei Asian Review that she hopes for a second reading in late April. In Taiwan, a bill requires three readings to become law.

"We are opening the door to allow gay friends to be able to express their love so that everyone can pursue happiness," Yu told hundreds of cheering activists outside the parliament right after the bill passed the committee stage.

"I am really happy," said Samuel Yang, 38. "The bill may finally help the public understand the gay community better and reduce discrimination." Yang said he has been participating in the gay rights movement since he was 19, when he came out to his family. 

Opponents of same-sex marriage protest outside the presidential office.

Hundreds of opponents of gay marriage rallied in front of the parliament on Monday morning, separated from supporters by only a police line. "Stop reviewing the bill -- let it be decided by referendum," banners read.

A few protesters entered the building. One got into the room while the judiciary committee was still sitting and berated members before being ejected by police, according to the Central News Agency.

"Marriage is exclusive," said 36-year-old protester Dixie Su, a mother of three.

"Only people who are safe and healthy can be allowed to enter the institution, just like only those who are older than 18 can get driving licenses," she said.

Su expressed concerns about same-sex couples being allowed to adopt and the spread of sexual liberation on campuses, which she feared would have a negative impact on her children. "We cannot look at this only from a human rights angle," she said.

Pushback against the bill had appeared to gain traction in recent days with open support from the Christian community. Initial protests were held outside the parliament on Nov. 17, and tens of thousands rallied in downtown Taipei on Dec. 3 to voice their opposition.

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