Saturday, March 30, 2013

Same-sex Marriage Dawning in Asia

(filed by Ng Yi-Sheng)

You see that doohickey Douglas Sanders has around his neck? It’s a traditional Thai talisman, in the shape of a golden cock.

Douglas: I have turned myself into a museum object. Ashley would say, “You were one already.”

In case you don’t know Douglas, he’s a Canadian human rights prof at Mahidol University, Bangkok, and he’s been resident in Thailand for decades. I covered a bit of his report at ILGA World – how he was part of the struggle for gay rights in his home country in the ‘80s, and how amazed he is by the media friendliness to gay wedding ceremonies across Asia.

And now there’s actually progress on real gay marriage legislation in Asia – here he brandished with delight the recent Bangkok Post article on Legalising Love, with photos of a gay couple, a lesbian couple, a transman and a transwoman, only missing an intersex representative, he said.

But what’s actually going on in each of these gay-marriage-loving countries? Turns out, the processes are really different in Thailand, Vietnam and Taiwan.

(No Nepal this time. It seemed to be developing something interesting, but the drafting of the constitution got derailed, so no dice.)

Tao Sattara was wonderfully animated on this issue: striding hyperactively down the aisle calling out questions at the audience. She seems to like saying “BOOM” a lot.

Tao: And then BOOM! Last year, in November, we got news from the parliament.

Tao: The meetings were really fast-paced, and BOOM! They had the draft.

Seems it all began in 2011, when LGBT activists from the country all came together and decided to push for marriage rights, scattering across the country to spread the word. Parliament responded, and a working group drafted a proposal in two months: they then went all over the nation once again, asking for feedback. (As I mentioned, 80% of the population is saying yes, they do think gays should have marriage rights!)

Tao says the problem in the draft is the wording: the old civil code of Thailand is being followed, identifying the different roles of husbands and wives, as if there are only two genders in the world. Also, there’s nothing about children – no provisions for adoption, or using medical technology to have kids, or even the kids you’ve had with your ex-husband or ex-wife.

Tao:  Even though they want to give us protection of rights, they still don’t want to include us in their family norm, which still means father, mother and kid.

So basically, this isn’t about marriages per se – the laws would give them access to civil unions. Not as awesome as authentic marriage, but still a big step forward for Asia.

In 2012, a government document revealed that authorities were trying to figure out the consequences of same-sex couples living together – turns out that these couples were turning up in law courts by the dozens with various disputes, and the judges had no provisions for dealing with their cases.

Luckily, Nguyen Hai Yen’s group, ICS, got hold of the brief, and in two days they had a press release ready for the media (they’ve been grooming reporters for years to be queer-friendly). They wanted marriage rights! And they wanted to be involved in the drafting, given that they would be beneficiaries of the law.

Yen: It’s different from Thailand, right? We’re not involved in the draft.

Dao: They say we were involved. But actually, only a little bit.

But as you know, the government’s listening: they’re trying to implement the idea. The Ministry’s been so bombarded with questions over this that ICS has been conducting workshops on LGBT issues for them. And wow, the Minister of Law’s even declared: “Whether same-sex marriage is recognised or not, in my opinion, we should not create social discrimination against homosexuals and their community.”

ICS has also been doing community workshops, bringing in bloggers, influencers, PFLAG and straight allies, organizing flashmobs, staging campaigns that show LGBT people as contributors to society. And guess what? Roughly 70% of people say they’re okay with the idea of marriage! Guess that’s one good thing about Communism: it’s kept the fundies at bay.

This is the oldest story here, Douglas says: we’ve heard rumblings of gay marriage in Taiwan since 2003, and the legal machine seems to be in motion again. Our presenter, Chih-Chieh Chien, leads an org devoted to this very issue: she’s Secretary-General of the Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights (TAPCPR).

Chih-Chieh: Traditionally, heterosexual marriage is the only way we can imagine the family. But every year, marriage rates are falling in Taiwan, and nuclear families are now less than 50%.

They’ve been doing surveys on cohabitation, revealing that more than half of their respondents have cohabited without marriage – top periods spent together were 23 years for lesbians, 15 for gay men and 11 for heterosexual people.

But the crazy – even scary – thing is, TAPCPR’s been waiting around long enough that they’re no longer satisfied with just the idea of a marriage law. They want something more revolutionary: a completely gender-neutral marriage code, for starters, so that even hetero couples can escape the cultural expectations of husbands and wives in Confucian society.

Furthermore, they want:

1. Civil partnership for both gay and straight couples
This would provide more space and reedom to negotiate the roles of raising children and how the conventions of sexual loyalty (there’s an adultery law in the current marriage code).

2. Non-fault divorce
They don’t have this in Taiwan yet. You can only end a marriage when it’s someone’s fault: not because you’ve stopped loving each other. Chih-Chieh claims that as a result, people don’t know how to separate peacefully.

3. Chosen family
Some kind of recognition for the diverse families that exist in realities, which aren’t necessarily made up of two romantically involved persons: some include non-sexual companions, some platonic partners, some multiple sexual partners. (This is the really scary suggestion to many people, including activists in the room – shades of the exploitative polygamy in Zhang Yimou’s Raise the Red Lantern, the Macau delegate said.)

Douglas: This is terribly bold to try to do so much. By comparison, extending marriage in Canada seems terribly unexciting.

And the rest of Asia? Lok from India was pleading for some kind of conjectural schedule for marriage rights elsewhere; Reverend CJ from the Philippines lamented that some LGBT Catholics may fight for lots of human rights causes but baulk at the issue of marriage, just because they feel their religion forbids it.

And of course, in Singapore, we’re still stuck with our antique sodomy law. How dare we call ourselves modern, when all the rest of the world is passing us by?

1 comment:

  1. In Japan we are actively doing lobbying to get same sex marriage here as well. We are surprisingly making good progress. For updates please join: