On Same-Sex Unions, the KMT Belongs in a MuseumThe KMT-led administration’s antediluvian stance on same-sex marriage is symptomatic of an apparatus that continues to reject modernity
By once again tackling this subject I fear that I may beating a dead horse, but the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration’s position on same-sex marriage, so abhorrently expressed at the legislature earlier this week, is so symptomatic of everything that is wrong with his government and the party that he led until recently that I feel compelled to comment anew.
To put it succinctly, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) doesn’t seem to have learned any of the lessons that were taught it this year. Neither the Sunflower Movement occupation of the Legislative Yuan nor the resounding defeat it suffered in the Nov. 29 nine-in-one elections seem to have affected how the executive and legislative branches under its control regard society.
Yes, Cabinet ministers on both occasions opined that the administration had heard the voice of the people, that it needed to consult society and youth, and must do better at explaining its (invariably sound) policies to the public. But those were platitudes uttered by politicians who remain wed to an institution that has failed to move into the 21st century.
For a while, money, which the party has plenty to play with, had sufficed to paper over the fact that the KMT was lagging behind. When, sometime around 2012, that strategy began to show signs that it was failing — throwing money at political problems has had a miserable record of success throughout history — it turned to another trick from the past: paternalistic authoritarianism. However, with youth taking the lead, Taiwanese signaled that what they expected from their leaders was the kind of modernity that is now intrinsic to Taiwanese identity, one that finally has succeeded in transcending ethnicity and the “color” politics of old. The old devices no longer worked: Money didn’t silence the public, while the combination of aloofness and repression that has characterized Ma’s second term only made matters worse, as “318” and “818” before it made all to clear.
The current executive and legislative complex under KMT control is a barrier to progress, representing little more than a coterie of crass politicians, religious conservatives and wealthy entrepreneurs who couldn’t care less about progress and modernity as long as their interests and those of their small circle continue to be fattened.
Hence the authorities’ position on legalizing same-sex marriage in Taiwan, an endeavor that, given public opinion (especially among youth), should be neither controversial nor difficult to implement. More than 50 percent of Taiwanese support legislation that would legalize marriage between individuals of the same gender by changing language pertaining to the constitution of a family. If we add those who do not have an opinion on the matter (and who therefore do not object to legalization), the numbers are in the 70-75 percent range.
And yet, the process has been hijacked by ultra-conservative legislators and officials, as well as (mostly) Christians whose views belong to the era when the Old Testament was being drafted. I won’t repeat the litany of abhorrent reasons stated by those groups to justify their opposition; suffice it to say that their position has nothing to do with scientific evidence or the progress that the human race has made over the past century on human rights.
One reason given earlier this week — by the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), no less — was that allowing same-sex unions would be “a violation of the principle of bloodline authenticity.” With such statements, one cannot be exactly sure whether we are in the Dark Ages or mired in the killing fields of Uganda, where homosexuality, thanks to the meddling by foreign-trained reprobate Evangelical preachers whose ideology has sadly extended its tentacles to this very island, is a “crime” ostensibly punishable by death. Yes, in 2014. Should we be surprised, then, that anti-same-sex protesters got away with breaking the law on Nov. 30, 2013 by threatening gay activists in a public space, with police looking on and failing to intervene?
Given the high support for legalization and the relatively low price that the KMT would pay in terms of votes with the 25-30 percent of Taiwanese who oppose it (whose lives and rights would furthermore suffer absolutely no detrimental consequences as a result of legalization), it makes no sense for the government to stick to its longstanding position on the matter. Except, of course, if we allow opinion, rather than facts, to stand in the way of enlightened policy implementation. Very much like the preachers who misquote (or invent quotes from) the bible (an encyclopedia of contradictions, by the way) to oppose same-sex unions and condemn homosexuals to eternity in a very hot place, the authorities have resorted to unprovables to justify their stance — society “isn’t ready,” and “many [unnamed] experts” (on what?) oppose it.
There is absolutely no doubt that Taiwanese society, even more so its leaders of tomorrow, are ready to legalize same-sex marriage and grant members of the LGBTQ community the rights that are naturally theirs. As just mentioned, passing legislation on the matter would not cost any party much votes, and in fact could win them some with the 70-75 percent of the public who either support or have no opinion. Above all, legalizing same-sex unions would demonstrate that Taiwan is well engaged along the path of modernity and in line with global trends in Western democracies.
By allowing 25-30 percent of the public to hold a supermajority hostage, and doing so on the basis of hate speech and outright lies, the Ma administration and the KMT (along with a few DPP officials, it must be said, though in general the party has adopted a positive stance) are once again demonstrating their inability to connect with the present, and more importantly to ensure a future for all Taiwanese. It’s actually an uncomplicated issue, and yet the government won’t do what is right. One can only imagine how ill prepared it must be to tackle the truly challenging issues that lie ahead!
The KMT ignores the warnings at its own peril. Its pitiable performance in the Nov. 29 local elections wasn’t, as some of its officials have claimed, due to a low voter turnout, but very much the result of boiling discontent with unaccountability and human rights violations committed by local officials, big business (and gangsters) under the abetment of the central government. In other words, the KMT was punished for failing to modernize, over its failures to meet public expectations of which economic development is only one of many factors, and not necessarily the most important one. Should the party continue to oppose modernization, the Taiwanese public will surely confine it to the dustbin of history, which at this point is very much where it seems to belong.
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.