Keeping Legislators Honest – LGBT StyleA new web site keeps tabs on what government officials, legislators, and religious leaders do and say about LGBT issues and same-sex marriage
As Taiwan’s civil society pushes back against what many regard as increasingly unaccountable executive and legislative branches of the government, a new organization is seeking to counter the influence of conservative elements who, for ideological or religious reasons, are blocking a bill to legalize same-sex unions and bring Taiwan in-line with the spirit of the two U.N covenants it signed in 2009.
The Lobby Alliance for LGBT Human Rights, an organization formed in March 2014, held a press conference in Taipei on May 7 to unveil PrideWatch (www.pridewatch.tw), a new effort that will monitor what lawmakers, political figures, electoral candidates, civil servants and religious leaders do and say about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues. Special attention will be paid to social activities and political statements that discriminate against the group.
The Alliance hopes that by publicizing and recording acts that infringe on the rights of LGBT members, “our society may set up a culture of mutual respect and learn to embrace diversity of sexual orientation.”
Along with some legislators, the Alliance has spearheaded efforts to legalize same-sex marriage in Taiwan, which if passed would make the first country in Asia to adopt such legislation. Recent opinion polls show that Taiwanese society at large supports same-sex unions (53%) or is indifferent (15-20%). In other words, there is no fundamental opposition to the matter. Despite this, a proposed marriage equality bill (No. 1150) has yet to be placed on the agenda of the legislature’s Judicial Affairs Committee. The Alliance hopes that committee members Liao Cheng-ching (廖正井) and Lu Hsueh-chang (呂學樟), both of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), will put it on the current agenda. (Liao opposes same-sex marriage, while Lu supports it.)
“There should be equal rights for all citizens,” Alliance spokeswoman Gina Chen (陳嘉君) said of the matter. “Politicians and lawmakers should not neglect the marriage-equality bill advocated by the alliance,” she said, adding that the silence and inaction of Taiwanese politicians on the subject was the equivalent of “trampling the rights of the LGBT community.”
About 1/3 of the total 112 legislators currently support same-sex marriage and 1/6 opposes it. About one-half have no opinion or are neutral on the subject. A little less than 3/4 of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislators support the bill, a figure that drops to about 1/8 among legislators from the KMT, which has the majority in the legislature. The site also features “stars of the month” and the official positions of municipal heads and candidates on same-sex unions.
One of the principal factors in the stalled passage of what should otherwise have been a relatively uncontroversial bill is the involvement of conservative Church members. Throughout 2013, various Christian organizations in Taiwan organized signature drives, campaigns, and rallies to counter the campaign to legalize same-sex unions. Investigations by this writer in late 2013 and early 2014 uncovered a network of religious leaders in Taiwan who were connected with U.S.-based ultraconservative Evangelical organizations. Chief among them was International House of Prayer (IHOP), a Church that besides regarding homosexuality as a sin has played a behind-the-scenes role in Uganda’s adoption in February this year of an “anti-gay bill” making homosexuality subject to the severest of punishments. Other deeply conservative religious centers in the U.S. have also served as incubators and training grounds for preachers who returned to Taiwan and advocated against same-sex marriage (and promoted abstinence among the youth).
By lobbying key civil servants, legislators, political candidates and wealthy entrepreneurs, the Christian groups, whose membership accounts for no more than 7% of Taiwan’s population, appear to have hijacked the process and cultivated the view that society at large was against homosexual unions. In addition to two large rallies, their campaign has also relied heavily on alarmist — and oftentimes unscientific — propaganda, warning that social chaos, an AIDS epidemic, and bestiality would soon follow the adoption of regulations legalizing homosexual unions. Although a small number of religious leaders have distanced themselves from this type of language, such rhetoric has been a hallmark of the campaign against LGBT groups and same-sex marriage.
The Alliance for LGBT rights says it will “also identify the parliament members whose votes have been swayed by conservative Church members.”
J. Michael Cole is editor in chief of Thinking Taiwan, a senior non-resident fellow at the China Policy Institute, University of Nottingham, and an Associate researcher at the French Center for Research on Contemporary China (CEFC) in Taipei.