Taiwan votes against LGBT equality, but all is not lost

This weekend saw Taiwanese citizens go to the polls to vote on five referendums of great historical significance to the global fight for LGBT equality.

Three of these referendums were worded in opposition to LGBT equality, while two were worded in support. (CNN: Taiwan voters reject same-sex marriage /BBC:Taiwan voters reject same-sex marriage in referendums)

The wording of the five referendums was as follows:

Case 10: National Referendum opposing marriage equality
“Do you agree that Civil Code regulations should restrict marriage to being between a man and a woman?” (你是否同意民法婚姻規定應限定在一男一女的結合?)

Case 11: National Referendum opposing LGBT sex education
“Do you agree that the Ministry of Education and individual schools should not teach homosexual-related education, as detailed under the Enforcement Rules for the Gender Equity Education Act, in elementary and high schools?” (你是否同意在國民教育階段內(國中及國小),教育部及各級學校不應對學生實施性別平等教育法施行細則所定之同志教育?)

Case 12: National Referendum recognizing same-sex unions outside of civil marriage
“Do you agree to types of unions, other than those stated in the marriage regulations in the Civil Code, to protect the rights of same-sex couples who live together permanently?” (你是否同意以民法婚姻規定以外之其他形式來保障同性別二人經營永久共同生活的權益?)

Case 14: National Referendum supporting marriage equality
“Do you agree that the Civil Code marriage regulations should be used to guarantee the rights of same-sex couples to get married?” (您是否同意,以民法婚姻章保障同性別二人建立婚姻關係?)

Case 15: National Referendum supporting LGBT sex education
“Do you agree that gender equity education as defined in the Gender Equity Education Act should be taught at all stages of the national curriculum and that such education should cover courses on emotional education, sex education and gay and lesbian education?” (您是否同意,以「性別平等教育法」明定在國民教育各階段內實施性別平等教育,且內容應涵蓋情感教育, 性教育, 同志教育等課程?

In all five cases, voters overwhelmingly came out on the side of the status quo, dealing a harsh blow to supporters of marriage equality, members of Taiwan’s LGBT community, and people around the world who have for the past few years looked to Taiwan as Asia’s progressive beacon of hope for gay and lesbian rights.

Indeed, the numbers themselves were daunting for Taiwan’s LGBT community and its allies in the global progressive community; without going into specific numbers, Taiwan’s voters in 2018 seemed to vote overwhelmingly against (around two to one, in most cases) any changes in the legal code that would recognize same-sex marriage or specifically promote legal equality for LGBT people.

The smoke has yet to clear in what has clearly been a deeply emotionally charged election in Taiwan. The days and weeks to come will certainly see dozens (if not hundreds) of editorial analyses written from all sides of the issue.

On the surface, it seems that the most likely takeaway will be something along the lines of “Conservative Confucian values still run deep in Taiwanese society.” If the numbers are to be believed (and so far, they seem to be, Taiwan having already proved itself more than competent in the holding free elections department), there seems to be truth in this analysis.

But those in the global LGBT communities who may be tempted to lose heart, buying into the narrative “Stories of Taiwan’s increasing social liberalization may be overstated,” there are some bright spots to be gleaned from what seems to be a massive step backward on the part of the Taiwanese electorate.

While the overall population came out against LGBT equality in this election, support for LGBT equality was quite high among voters from younger demographics. And while Taiwan as a whole may as of yet be unready to accept full court-mandated LGBT equality, that such issues were even put to a national vote in Taiwan points to Taiwan’s increasingly progressive nature. Ten years ago, issues like these wouldn’t have been discussed around most dinner tables in Taiwan. For the past two, they’ve been discussed freely at a national level. (Read Also: PRIDE, Healing and Taiwan’s LGBTQ Community: A Conversation with Olivia Wu)

And while the people of Taiwan as a whole ultimately voted against LGBT equality, the fact that the Taiwanese people were able to vote on the issue at all demonstrates the overall commitment to democracy of a nation barely three decades removed from one-party rule and history’s longest period of martial law. Taiwan remains East Asia’s most progressive, diverse and democratic society. (Read Also: Taipei Celebrates Our Pride)

Despite the election results, MyTaiwanTour and Taiwan Scene remain 100% committed to full equality and respect towards people of every gender and sexual orientation. We take comfort in the words of Martin Luther King Jr, who famously said:

“Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”