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Politics

Taiwan makes history with legalization of same-sex marriage

First such move in Asia comes as ruling party faces uphill battle in presidential election

Same-sex marriage supporters celebrate in Taipei after Taiwan on Friday became the first place in Asia to legalize such marriages.   © Reuters

TAIPEI -- Taiwan lawmakers approved a landmark bill on Friday guaranteeing the right of same-sex couples to marry, making the island the first place in Asia to legalize same-sex marriages.

Supporters of the bill, mainly young people, gathered around the building of the Legislative Yuan, Taiwan's parliament, in Taipei beginning early Friday morning. Taiwanese media reported that more than 10,000 people gathered to lend their support for the legislation, saying that Taiwan had "made history" and that it was a "proud" day for its people.

"Today, we have a chance to make history & show the world that progressive values can take root in an East Asian society," President Tsai Ing-wen wrote on her Twitter account Friday morning. After passage of the bill, she tweeted that Taiwan had taken a "big step towards true equality."

The new law will also grant inheritance rights to spouses of same-sex couples, and allow them to adopt a child who is related by blood to either one of the couple.

The law will take effect once it is signed by Tsai, after which same-sex couples are expected to register for marriage across Taiwan beginning on May 24.

Supporters of same-sex marriage in Taipei on Friday. Two years ago, Taiwan's constitutional court ruled that not allowing same-sex marriage was illegal because it runs counter to freedom and equality. (Photo by Kensaku Ihara)

The legislation follows similar moves in the U.S. and Europe and could affect campaigns for such unions in Japan and elsewhere in Asia. The Thai government last year adopted a bill enabling same-sex couples to register as couples equivalent to married ones.

In May 2017, Taiwan's constitutional court ruled that not allowing same-sex marriage was illegal because it runs counter to freedom and equality. The court gave the island's legislature two years to legalize same-sex marriage.

But that ruling drew backlash from conservatives, who claimed that allowing same-sex marriage would "destroy the shapes" of marriages based on the belief that such unions are between men and women.

Friday's developments come ahead of presidential elections in January 2020.

Tsai's ruling Democratic Progressive Party, or DPP, is facing an uphill battle in its attempt to win the election. The special law enacted on Friday is widely seen as part of efforts by Tsai's administration to secure support among young people by making clear its liberal stance.

The opposition Chinese Nationalist Party, also known as the Kuomintang or KMT, submitted a rival bill to parliament, which would not permit same-sex marriage and would allow only "same-sex family relations." But it failed to pass because of objections from the DPP.

Tsai won the last presidential election in 2016, pledging to pursue liberal policies, but since taking office she has lost some support following ambiguous remarks out of consideration to conservatives.

While the KMT now has the upper hand in the presidential election race, Tsai is seeking to regain public support by making clear her return to liberal policies.

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