By Johan Nylander
TAIPEI, Taiwan — Just before Alvin Chang’s mother passed away 12 years ago, she asked Alvin’s older sister to look after him.
Why? She had realized her son was homosexual and needed support.
“He will never get married. So you have to take care of him,” Alvin recalls her saying to his sister.
Now, with public and political acceptance of LGBT relationships growing in Taiwan, Alvin’s late mother, and many of her generation, might be proven wrong.
A new proposal to legalize same-sex marriage is expected to be put forward in a parliamentary committee this year, according to legislators interviewed by CNN.
“I’m sure gay marriage will be legalized soon,” said Chang, now aged 45, who runs one of Taipei’s most famous gay bars, Dalida, in the heart of the city’s gay village. On the walls of the bar, there are posters promoting the legalization of gay marriage.
“I believe she (my mother) would feel happy for me, deep inside, if I one day got married, even if it is with a man.”
Taiwan has a large gay community and is one of the most progressive places in Asia in terms of LGBT rights.
Sex between partners of the same gender is legal, discrimination based on sexual orientation is banned in workplaces and schools, and changing one’s legal gender is permitted. The island’s annual gay pride parade is the biggest in Asia.
Now, with the more liberal Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in power — Tsai Ing-wen was sworn in as Taiwan’s first female president in May — expectations are high that the the island will become the first place in Asia to permit same-sex marriage.
The 59-year-old president has repeatedly spoken in support of sexual equality and LGBT rights.
“In the face of love, everyone is equal,” she said in a Facebook video during last year’s gay pride parade.
“I support marriage equality. Every person should be able to look for love freely, and freely seek their own happiness.”
Nonetheless, many LGBT people won’t come out to their parents or employers.
Homosexuality is still controversial with the older generation, and gay marriage is opposed by politically influential social conservative and Christian groups.
A poll from 2013 showed 75% of Christians opposed legalization, while a slight majority of Buddhists, Taoists and the greater public were in favor.
A bill raised in 2012 to legalize same-sex marriage failed in parliament, the Legislative Yuan, after stalling at the committee level.
Yu Mei-Nu, the DPP legislator who proposed that last bill, says she is preparing to try again. She expects to present it later this year.
Although Yu says the bill is unlikely to pass soon, she has cross-party support and believes marriage equality will be realized by the end of Tsai’s term — which runs until 2020.
Jason Hsu, legislator for rival party Kuomintang (KMT), says LGBT rights are a top priority, worth collaborating on with Yu and other legislators.
“This is an issue that shouldn’t be ideological. It’s a sign of a society’s progressiveness.”
Among the legal amendments under consideration is the right for same-sex partners to register as a married couple, to inherit wealth and property and to access surrogacy parent arrangements, Hsu said.
Asked what would happen if President Tsai and her DPP party would not support same-sex marriage legislation, his answer was clear.
“There would be a revolt from the LGBT community.”
Viral ad of son coming out to father
Several polls indicate rising support for same-sex marriage.
In online survey last year, backed by Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice, 71% of those polled favored legalizing same-sex marriage, a clear increase from previous surveys. Other polls have also shown healthy majorities.
When McDonald’s in Taiwan recently ran a commercial featuring a young man coming out to his father, a religious group slammed the fast-food chain for spreading “improper” ideas to children.
But the ad’s reception online suggested overwhelming public support for the situation.
Published on YouTube on March 4, the video now has over two million views, with 9,600 thumbs up compared to only 600 thumbs down.
“I feel we have a lot of support. I would be highly surprised — and disappointed — if the government didn’t push for this,” said Olivia Wu, who works at a lesbian store in Taipei, named Loveboat.
Opened 12 years ago as the city’s first store focusing on lesbians, Loveboat is today more of a community and hangout for LGBT people. There’s a small café as well as healing and massage rooms. They organize debates and workshops.
Wu, who is originally from Los Angeles, stumbled upon Loveboat on a trip to Taiwan eight years ago — and decided to stay.
“I found a new way of life here. LA’s LGBT scene is more hip. Here it’s more all rounded, emotional and spiritual. Taiwan is a good place,” she said as she showed me around the small shop, which sells everything from chest binders and sex toys to LGBT literature.
Asked if she would like to get married should the law change, she offered the same answer many do: It’s about finding the right girl.
“For me, I actually don’t find it important to get married,” she said. “What is important, however, is to have the right to get married.”