As marriage equality legislation moves forward in Taiwan, the nation’s bishops have offered qualified support for same-gender couples to receive legal rights.
A bill to legalize marriage equality for same-gender couples had its first reading in the Legislative Yuan, the country’s legislature, this past November.
At that time, the secretary of the Chinese Regional Bishops’ Conference, Otried Chan, released a statement opposing the bill, but not rejecting LGBT rights altogether. He said that marriage is exclusively heterosexual. But, the Taipei Times reported:
” ‘We understand that homosexual couples long to start families of their own, but those in government have a responsibility to protect marriage. Marriage is not something that can be lightly altered — there has to be a full discussion,’ Chan said, adding that there was room for discussion of ‘technical issues, such as hospital visitation rights and inheritance rights for same-sex couples, as part of societal dialogue.”
” ‘Our government should do its best to take care of this group of people who are striving for their own happiness — that is the duty of government. . .If the government decides to pass a law guaranteeing the right of two men or two women to establish mutual inheritance rights, that is something we can respect. There is nothing wrong with leaving property to a friend or allowing a non-relative to make medical decisions or dispose of one’s estate, but does that require changing the institution of marriage?’ “
Thousands of Taiwan’s citizens have rallied in recent weeks for equal marriage rights. On December 10, the United Nations’ International Human Rights Day, some 250,000 people participated in a march and concert. And counter-protestors were not necessarily opposing marriage equality, but advocating a referendum over legislative process, reported Out Magazine.
In a related November incident, an anti-gay email from administrators at Fu Jen Catholic University has stirred controversy. The university’s Chaplain’s Office sent the email against marriage equality, according to The China Post, which cites theologian Augustine Tsang as saying gay people should “correct themselves.”
A local politician shared the letter on Facebook, prompting criticism of the University. But the Post reports Fu Jen administrators have claimed the “Chaplain’s Office belongs to a Catholic system that is separate from the school.”
Polling has shown a majority of Taiwan’s citizens support LGBT rights, including Catholics. Frank Wang, a social work professor, wrote in the Taipei Times that divisions over same-gender marriage were heartbreaking for Catholics. He continued:
“‘I would say to my Catholic brothers and sisters: I used to feel the fear that you are feeling now. By embracing same-sex marriage, you will allow the next generation to learn how to love one another; it will not turn the next generation into a generation of homosexuals.
“‘The greatest pain suffered by homosexuals is that, living in a heterosexual world, we cannot see the hope that we should be entitled to feel as people. Please allow us to return to the love of God. Please learn from God’s example, turn nobody away, give others hope and give gay people love — and let them know that their love, too, is blessed by God.'”
The openness to LGBT rights from Taiwan’s bishops is a positive step, one which may help LGBT people feel God’s love more as Wang hoped. But as in other cases where Catholic leaders have suggested civil unions or some other form of legal recognition for same-gender couples that is less than marriage, the solution is not sufficient for full protection of couples and families.
The marriage bill will be considered this month when the Legislative Yuan meets again and, if passed, would make Taiwan the first Asian country to legalize same-gender marriages.
–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, December 14, 2016