Taiwan to hold referendum on same-sex marriage law

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan will hold a public vote on whether its civil law should recognize same-sex marriage, two election officials told Reuters on Tuesday, reviving a debate over a separate law for civil unions between gay couples.

In Asia’s first such ruling, the constitutional court declared in May last year that same-sex couples had the right to legally marry, and set a two-year deadline for legalization.

But in August an activist group proposed a vote on the issue to the Central Election Commission, saying a separate law would defend “family values”.

After a month-long review, the commission decided November 24 as the date of the referendum, coinciding with mayoral and magisterial elections on the self-ruled island, two commission officials, who are familiar with the referendum plan but declined to be identified, told Reuters.

However, when approached by Reuters for comment, the commission’s deputy minister, Chen Chao Jian, said it was not its practice to comment on individual proposals.

The referendum will cover whether the scope of marriage should be limited to a bond between a man and a woman, and whether a special law is needed to protect same-sex couples’ right to a “permanent union”.

Welcoming the news of a referendum, David Tseng, chairman of a group opposed to same-sex marriage, the Coalition for the Happiness of Our Next Generation, said the issue would “entirely affect Taiwan’s moral principles and family values.”

Activists who have long campaigned for same-sex marriage called the referendum “discriminatory” since it went against the 2017 ruling that current laws violate the right to freedom of marriage and equality.

“As Taiwanese, we feel sorry but we don’t have time and room for disappointment,” said Jennifer Lu, coordinator of Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan.

Activists in September had petitioned the commission for a public vote on whether Taiwan’s civil law should protect same-sex couples’ right to marriage. The commission was expected to respond to the petition later this month.

LGBT activists say President Tsai Ing-wen’s government promised marriage equality during the 2016 election campaign but has made little progress on the issue.

Society is still divided on same-sex marriage, Tsai said this year, but the government would abide by the constitutional court ruling of May 2017.

Reporting By Yimou Lee; Editing by Michael Perry and Darren Schuettler