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A same-sex first for Asia

Taiwan's legislature voted Friday to legalize same-sex marriage, a first in Asia and a boost for LGBT rights activists who had championed the cause for two decades.

Lawmakers pressured by LGBT groups as well as by church organizations opposed to the move approved most of a government-sponsored bill that recognizes same-sex marriages and gives couples many of the tax, insurance and child custody benefits available to male-female married couples.

That makes Taiwan the first place in Asia with a comprehensive law both allowing and laying out the terms of same-sex marriage.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, a supporter of the law, tweeted: "On May 17th, 2019 in Taiwan, LoveWon. We took a big step toward true equality, and made Taiwan a better country."

"It's a breakthrough, I have to say so," said Shiau Hong-chi, professor of gender studies and communications management at Shih-Hsin University in Taiwan.

Thousands of people, including same-sex couples, demonstrated Friday morning in the rainy streets outside parliament before the vote. Many carried rainbow-colored placards reading "The vote cannot fail." About 50 opponents sat under a tent outside parliament and gave speeches favouring marriage between only men and women.

Taiwan's constitutional Court in May 2017 said the constitution allows same-sex marriages and gave parliament two years to adjust laws accordingly.

The court order mobilized LGBT advocacy groups pushing for fair treatment, as well as opponents among church groups and advocates of traditional Chinese family values that stress the importance of marriage and producing offspring.

Religion, conservative values and political systems that discourage LGBT activism have slowed momentum toward same-sex marriage in many Asian countries from Japan through much of Southeast Asia, although Thailand is exploring the legalization of same-sex civil partnerships.

"This will help spark a debate in Thailand, and hopefully will help Thailand move faster on our own partnership bill," said Wattana Keiangpa of the Asia Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said Taiwan's action should "sound a clarion call, kicking off a larger movement across Asia to ensure equality for LGBT people and pro-active protection of their rights by governments throughout the region. No more excuses!"



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