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Taiwan Becomes First in Asia to Legalize Same-Sex Marriage

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  • Taiwan’s Parliament passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage on Friday, making it the first in Asia to do so.
  • The decision comes after a 2017 ruling by Taiwan’s Constitutional Court which found that disallowing same-sex marriage violated the country’s constitution, and gave the government two years to pass a law legalizing it.
  • Supporters of the bill are optimistic it will set an example for other Asian nations, while opponents say it does not support the will of the people, who overwhelmingly voted against legalization in a referendum last November.

Parliament Passes Same-Sex Marriage Bill

Taiwan became the first in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage after the country’s Parliament approved a bill Friday.

Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Taiwan’s capital city, Taipei, in anticipation of Friday’s vote. Gathered outside the Parliament building, supporters cheered when the decision was announced.

The Parliament’s announcement came after lawmakers considered three separate bills and ultimately decided on the most progressive of the three, which was passed with a vote of 66-27. The legislation chosen was the only one that defined a same-sex relationship as “marriage,” while the other bills used terms like “same-sex union.”

The bill will take effect after Taiwan’s President, Tsai Ing-wen, signs it into law. Ing-wen campaigned on marriage equality in 2016, and praised the passage of the bill on Twitter, writing, “We took a big step towards true equality, and made Taiwan a better country.”

Once the law goes into effect, it will give same-sex couples many of the same tax, insurance, and child custody benefits that are allowed to heterosexual married couples. It will also allow limited adoption rights, though it is unclear if those rights will extend to the adoption of non-blood relatives.

Taiwan’s Progressive History

Taiwan has been applauded as a champion and leader of gay rights in the region, well before the passage of the new bill.

Its annual gay pride parade in Taipei is known for attracting tens of thousands of people from all over the continent, making it the largest pride parade in East Asia.

In 2017, Taiwan’s Constitutional Court ruled that the laws that prohibited same-sex couples from marrying violated the Taiwanese constitution. The court then gave the government two years to pass a law legalizing same-sex marriage.

However, same-sex marriage remained a divisive subject in Taiwan. Following the 2017 ruling, conservative and religious opponents stalled the passage of a new law legalizing gay marriage. Opponents also pressured the government into holding a referendum on whether or not the public wanted gay marriage to be legal.

The referendum, which was held in Novemeber, showed that Taiwanese voters overwhelmingly opposed the legalization of same-sex marriage, and favored the definition of marriage as the union of a man and woman.  

Taiwan’s ruling party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), responded to the referendum by drafting two competing bills that would align with both the Constitutional Court’s decision and the results of the referendum. Unsurprisingly, those bills were strongly opposed by the LBGTQ+ community.

Taiwan’s Parliament ultimately did not choose those two bills, instead opting for the bill supported by the LGBTQ+ community, as represented by the vote on Friday. While marriage equality advocates have criticized the limits on adoption rights for same-sex couples, they still favored the bill that was passed over the other versions.

While supporters celebrated the bill’s passage, opponents of legalizing gay marriage expressed their anger. “How can we ignore the result of the referendums, which demonstrated the will of the people?” said John Wu, a lawmaker who is part of the opposition Kuomintang party. “Can we find an appropriate compromise solution? We need more dialogue in society.”

Potential Implications for the Region

Taiwan’s decision to legalize gay marriage makes it the first to do so in a region where gay rights have fallen wayside.

With the new law, many hope that Taiwan will set an example for other countries in the region. Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director at Human Rights Watch, applauded Taiwan for leading the way for LGBTQ+ rights in Asia “amid growing authoritarianism and rights abuses in other countries throughout the region.”

However, it remains unclear if other Asian nations will follow suit. While countries like China and Vietnam have decriminalized homosexuality, gay marriage still remains illegal.

Other Asian nations still are slow to embrace change concerning LGBTQ+ rights.

Until last year, gay sex was considered a criminal offense in India which was punishable by up to ten years in jail. Just last month, Brunei implemented new laws that made gay sex and adultery punishable by stoning to death.

Brunei later walked back on the law after massive international protest. It now claims it will not enforce the death penalty, though gay sex will still be punished by jail time in the country.

That said, others are optimistic about strides some Asian nations are taking. Thailand has proposed a law that would recognize same-sex partnerships, and last year a Hong Kong court ruled that same-sex couples that live in the city would be allowed the same rights to visas as heterosexual couples who are married.

Same-sex marriage is not legally recognized in Hong Kong, but public opinion polls show that support for marriage equality is gaining traction.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (BBC) (The Washington Post)

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Bolsonaro Responds After Macron Calls Amazon Fires an “International Crisis”

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  • French President Emmanual Macron called the fires in the Amazon rainforest an “international crisis” and suggested they be a priority topic at the upcoming G7 summit.
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said Macron was using the fires for “personal political gains” and added that discussing the fires without leaders from Brazil present evokes a colonial mindset.
  • Other world leaders have spoken in favor of discussing the fires during the summit.
  • Bolsonaro has been criticized for his handling of the issue, as he supports deforestation efforts, which many think could be the cause.

Macron and Bolsonaro Tweet About Amazon Fires

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro accused French President Emmanual Macron of evoking a “misplaced colonialist mindset” after Macron suggested that the Amazon rainforest fires be discussed at the G7 summit in his home country. 

“Our house is burning. Literally,” Macron tweeted on Thursday. 

“It is an international crisis. Members of the G7 Summit, let’s discuss this emergency first order in two days,” he added. The G7 Summit will be held in Biarritz, France starting Saturday. World leaders from the other G7 countries, Canada, Germany, Italy, the U.K., Japan, and the U.S will be attending.

Bolsonaro responded in two tweets, claiming the French president was using the fires for “personal political gains.”

“The French President’s suggestion that Amazonian issues be discussed at the G7 without the participation of the countries of the region evokes a misplaced colonialist mindset in the 21st century,” Bolsonaro added.

Impacts and Potential Causes of the Fires

According to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, this year, Brazil has seen an 84% increase in fires in the Amazon. Reports say there are currently 2,500 active fires in the forest, which provides 20% of the world’s oxygen supply. While fires are common this time of year, this increase worries environmental activists. 

Since news of the fires started receiving international attention, Bolsonaro has been criticized for inaction. Many believe that deforestation tactics, which he has been supportive of, are the causes of the issue. Bolsonarao, however, has said that he suspects nongovernmental organizations are behind the fires in efforts to make his government look bad. There is currently no evidence to support this. 

World Leaders Look to Help

World leaders have expressed their concerns over their fires and the impacts they could have. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shared his support of Macron’s initiative to prioritize the rainforest at the G7 Summit.

A spokesperson for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a fellow G7 leader, said that the subject “belongs on the agenda.”

“The extent of the fires in the Amazon area is shocking and threatening, not only for Brazil and the other affected countries, but also for the whole world,” the spokesperson said in a statement to reporters.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres also tweeted about the fires, calling them a “global climate crisis.”

What You Can Do

There are organizations working to save the Amazon. The Amazon Conservation Team works with indigenous communities to protect the forest and their culture. Rainforest Trust aims to stop deforestation. The Amazon Conservation Association helps to prevent fires and minimize their reach. Donating to these groups, or seeing if there are any ways you can volunteer within them, is one way to help the situation from wherever you live.

For other everyday things you can do to help, the Rainforest Alliance also has lists of green products and lifestyle habits that you can follow. They also work with local communities and organizations to help fight deforestation. 

See what others are saying: (BBC) (Aljazeera) (NPR)

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“Patriotism Pop” in India Encourages Hindus to Claim Kashmir

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  • A new genre of music called “patriotism pop” has been rapidly spreading on YouTube and TikTok in India.
  • The genre has recently evolved into music videos about Indians settling in Kashmir by buying land and marrying Kashmiri women following India’s decision to revoke Kashmir’s autonomous status.
  • Critics have argued that the music promotes a dangerous form of nationalism and patriotism.
  • Meanwhile, Kashmiris have been unable to address the rise of the new videos as they are still under a security lockdown and communications blackout.

Patriotism Pop

A growing genre of music in India called “patriotism pop” is increasingly being shared on social media more and more.

According to the Associated Press, which published a detailed article about the music Wednesday, patriotism pop is a type of popular music that features songs about Hindu nationalism and expresses support for Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

These songs and the videos that accompany them have become massively popular on YouTube and TikTok. YouTube has around 250 million users in India, while TikTok has about 150 million. As a result, patriotism pop songs have gotten millions of hits on those platforms.

Earlier songs in the genre were limited to the rise of Hindus in India, defeating Pakistan, and flying the Indian flag in every household. 

However, according to AP, the genre expanded after India revoked Kashmir’s special autonomous status on Aug. 5. 

For decades, the contested region that both India and Pakistan claim control over had its own constitution and many of its own laws. 

Now, India’s central government has exerted near-total authority over Kashmir by revoking the constitutional provision, known as Article 370, that had outlined Kashmir’s autonomy since India’s Independence from Britain in 1947.

Modi’s government also said it would allow Indians to buy property in Kashmir, something only Kashmiris had been allowed to do.

Just hours after India’s announcement, patriotism pop music videos about Indians settling in Kashmir by buying land and marrying Kashmiri women began circulating.

Controversial Videos

One video, titled “Article 370,” now has more than 1.6 million views on YouTube.

The video is largely composed of cuts between the Indian flag and speeches made by Modi. 

At one point, the singer thanks Modi and his government for removing Article 370. The video then cuts to the map of Kashmir and includes words that loosely translate to how Pakistan has lost to India.

The music video was produced by a self-identified Indian nationalist named Nitesh Singh Nirmal, who also collaborated on another song about a man who is looking for a Kashmiri bride.

“I am doing service for the nation,” Nirmal told AP. “People dance to these songs.”

Critics of the songs have argued that the idea of marrying Kashmiri women in order to settle in the region is problematic.

Speaking to AP, political anthropologist Ather Zia said that the songs are a “culmination of a toxic misogynistic nationalist thinking.”

“The Indian media — from news to entertainment — has left no stone unturned in portraying Kashmiri women in the racist trope of ‘coveted fair-skinned ones’ (and) at the same time being helpless and needing saving from their own men — all this while demonizing Kashmiri men,” she added.

Lockdown Continues in Kashmir

Meanwhile, Kashmiris have been unable to respond to these new videos as the entire region has been cut off from the internet since Aug. 5.

Along with cutting off communications, India also sent tens of thousands of military forces to Kashmir to basically put the city on lockdown by enforcing an almost constant curfew and patrolling the streets.

The people of Kashmir responded by launching a series of ongoing protests.

Indian officials have said that while they plan on keeping the internet cut off, they have begun to ease some of the restrictions in the region. However, it remains unclear how much is really being done, as most of the reporting comes from state-sponsored media in India.

Regardless, many Kashmiris are wary about any claims made by the government, especially after Indian officials said they had arrested more than 4,000 people since the crackdown began, including some high-profile political figures.

Those arrests are notable not only because of the sheer magnitude but also because India has a law that allows authorities to put someone in prison for up to two years without any specific charge or a trial.

There has also been some violence in parts of the region. On Wednesday, Indian authorities reported that two people were killed during a shoot-out between the police and Kashmiri rebels, marking the first reported clash involving gun violence in India-controlled Kashmir.

Meanwhile, clashes along the Line of Control that divides India-controlled Kashmir and Pakistan-controlled Kasmir have increased in the last few weeks.

There have been reports that gunfire has been exchanged multiple times, though India and Pakistan have given conflicting reports about the number of fatalities.

See what others are saying: (The Associated Press) (Al Jazeera) (The New York Times)\

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Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro Criticized for Inaction Over Amazon Forest Fires

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  • Social media users are using #PrayforAmazonia to bring attention to fires in the Amazon forest that have been burning for three weeks.
  • Many blame Brazillian President Jair Bolsonaro for failing to take action to address the issue, while some argue that his pro-deforestation policies are what lead to the fires in the first place.
  • Since taking office in January, Bolsonaro has massively ramped up deforestation of the Amazon by rolling back protections and increasing access for agriculture and mining.

#PrayforAmazonia Trends on Twitter

Twitter users are criticizing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro for his failure to stop a series of forest fires that have been tearing through the Amazon forest for the last three weeks

On Tuesday morning, “Amazon rainforest” and “#PrayforAmazonia” trended on Twitter. “Amazon rainforest is burning… And Bolsonaro is deliberately doing nothing,” one user wrote.

“This is the Brazilian environmental policy under president Bolsonaro,” another user wrote above pictures of fires. “The Amazon Rainforest’s burning for about 3 weeks and nothing’s been done.”

Other people noted the Amazon has been burning for weeks but that they were just learning about it now.

Some also pointed out the lack of media coverage on the fires.

Amazon Rainforest Fires

Currently, there are numerous fires in multiple states that are basically burning down the Amazon rainforest totally unchecked.

Last week, NASA released satellite images of a massive smoke layer covering a huge part of the forest. One NASA researcher told reporters that the smoke layer spanned about 1.2 million square miles, which is about one-third of the United States.

Satellite images of a massive smoke layer released by NASA.

The smoke has continued to spread, endangering the health of people and animals living in the area, according to local reports. The air quality has gotten so bad in some areas, that about two weeks ago, the state of Amazonas declared a state of emergency.

On Monday, people in São Paulo, which is on the other side of the country from the Amazon, shared pictures of the sky turning black in the middle of the afternoon, which multiple scientists have attributed to the smoke from the fires.

Cause of the Fires

Numerous experts have said that the fires are caused by humans and there are several pieces of evidence to back that up.

First, the Amazon rainforest is comparatively fire-resistant because it is so wet and humid. While there are often fires this time of year, they are usually caused by extreme droughts. 

Despite the fact that fire outbreaks rose by 70% this year compared to 2018, there have not been any extreme weather events that would cause this amount of fires.

Second, fire is actually used in the Amazon as an agricultural technique to clear land for planting crops. The technique, called “slash and burn,” is also one of the major methods used in the Amazon for illegal deforestation.

Since Bolsonaro took office in January, deforestation has rapidly increased.

According to satellite data from the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE), deforestation in the Amazon increased by around 245% in July 2019 compared to July 2018.

According to The Guardian, that’s the same as destroying three football fields worth of forest every minute.

Despite the fact that the data came from satellite images, Bolsonaro has described it as “fake news.” After the INPE reported those numbers, Bolsonaro fired the head of that agency.

“The numbers, as I understand it, were released with the objective of harming the name of Brazil and its government,” Bolsonaro told reporters earlier this month.

Bolsonaro’s Policies

As many have pointed out, Bolsonaro campaigned on opening up the Amazon to resource extraction. Since taking office, he has made it a key component of his economic policy.

Until Bolsonaro’s election, protecting the Amazon has been at the core of Brazilian environmental policy for the last two decades. 

With the help of powerful lobbyists, he has rolled back environmental protections and ratcheted up access to mining and agriculture by clearing huge sections of forest.

Many of the areas that Bolsonaro has opened up to agriculture and mining are protected indigenous lands, which the president has said are too big for the number of people who live there.

According to BBC, more than 800,000 indigenous people live in 450 demarcated territories which cover about 12% of land across the country. Most of those territories are in the Amazon region, and some are entirely isolated.

This strategy has endangered both the indigenous populations and the forest itself, especially as it is widely believed among experts and scientists that protecting indigenous lands is one of the best strategies to conserve forests.

This is especially important for the Amazon because the Amazon basin is absolutely critical to stabilizing the global climate.

The entire basin spans about three million square miles and includes 40% of the world’s tropical forests, 20% of its freshwater, and produces 20% of the air we breathe, according to a report by Foreign Policy.

It also has many keystone ecosystems which are crucial to global biodiversity. The importance of the Amazon cannot be understated.

Around 60% of the Amazon forest is in Brazil, a country where a number of top officials in the government do not even believe climate change is real.

Those officials are convinced any criticisms of Bolsonaro’s policies as harmful to the environment are propagated by civil society groups and foreign governments who are trying to sabotage the administration.

Bolsonaro, for his part, has largely expressed disinterest in the environment. 

When asked by a reporter last week about whether Brazil can grow more food and protect the environment at the same time, Bolsonaro responded, “It’s enough to eat a little less. You talk about environmental pollution. It’s enough to poop every other day. That will be better for the whole world.”

See what others are saying: (Newsweek) (Foreign Policy) (The New York Times)

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