November 16, 2018 / 3:49 PM / 25 days ago

Tech, banking giants back same-sex marriage in Taiwan ahead of referendum

KUALA LUMPUR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Banking and technology giants including JPMorgan, Google and Microsoft on Friday threw their support behind a campaign for same-sex marriage in Taiwan, days before a referendum.

Taiwan’s top court declared last year that same-sex couples had the right to legally marry, but conservative groups successfully petitioned for a referendum and the island will hold a series of public votes on the issue on Nov. 24.

Tech giants Google and IBM were among 27 multinational firms, local companies and NGOs that put their names to a joint statement on Friday saying same-sex couples “deserve the same right to marry in Taiwan as other couples”.

They said policies that promote diversity would benefit business and help Taiwan to “attract and retain the top talent we need to remain competitive in the global economy”.

“We recognise that we gain strength from a diverse workforce and embrace our differences,” Chris Cockerill, a spokesman from U.S. investment bank JPMorgan, one of the 27 signatories, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an email.

Software giant Microsoft said “diversity and inclusion help drive our business”.

Other signatories, including German lender Deutsche Bank and Google, confirmed their support but declined to comment further.

Rights groups have expressed disappointment with the government of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, whose election campaign included a promise of marriage equality, saying little progress had been made.

The May 2017 court ruling was the first such decision in Asia, where conservative values have long stood in the way of progress on gay rights.

The self-ruled island of Taiwan, which has a vibrant gay scene, is regarded as a beacon of liberalism in Asia, but socially conservative attitudes still largely hold sway.

Tseng Hsien-ying from the Coalition for the Happiness of Our Next Generation, which lobbied for the referendum, said the island was “not ready for drastic changes”.

“If same-sex couples want to be together, we respect that but we want a separate law for them so that we don’t redefine our law on marriage which should remain between a man and a woman,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The Nov. 24 referendum, which coincides with local elections for mayors and magistrates, will see four questions related to same-sex marriage - two for and two against – put to a vote.

A fifth question about rolling back mandatory gender equality education in schools will also be on the ballot.

For the referendum to pass, at least 25 percent of some 19 million eligible voters must vote yes, and the government is obliged to propose laws that reflect their results.

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