- 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)
600,000 Hong Kongers Vote in Pro-Democracy Primaries Despite Possibility of Breaking the Law
- Over 600,000 Hong Kongers took part in primaries for pro-democracy parties over the weekend, seeking to select candidates for the September elections.
- Hong Kong and Beijing authorities spoke out against the primaries, saying they “undermined” the upcoming elections and likely violated the national security law.
- Chief Executive Carrie lam also warned candidates that once in office, consistently voting to block bills and directives from Beijing are “subverting state power” and are against the law.
Hong Kong Weekend Primaries
Hong Kong and Beijing officials have spoken out against primaries held over the weekend by pro-democracy groups ahead of September elections, saying such primaries subvert state power and are likely in violation of the national security law.
Many in Hong Kong view this as their last big election and a chance at challenging the government of Hong Kong. Organizers claim that 610,000 people voted over the weekend. Though thousands voted in person, most voted via a mobile app made specifically for this election.
The lead-up to the primary was contentious. On Friday, police raided the offices of the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute, a major pollster in the city.
There are claims the organization was targeted because it planned to work with the pro-democracy parties and help run the primaries. However, police claimed the raid was actually because computers belonging to the group were leaking the private information of thousands of people, including officers. While police said it was possibly from a hack, they did also state they are investigating whether or not the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute was responsible for the leaks.
On Saturday and Sunday, when voting actually took place, scenes were relatively peaceful. People who physically went to polls to vote did so with no police interference. Results show that a lot of “localists” – younger, more anti-CCP candidates, beat the older pro-democracy crowd. Despite little interference in the actual primaries themselves, officials were extremely critical of them.
Voting to Subvert the State
Late Monday night, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam attacked the primaries, telling reporters, “By the way, there’s no such thing as a primary in Hong Kong’s election system…”
She then added an ominous threat, saying, “As a further note of warning, if this so-called primary election’s purpose is to achieve the ultimate goal of delivering what they call a 35-plus, with the objective of objecting to, resisting every policy, initiative of the Hong Kong SAR government, then it may fall in fall into the category of subverting the state power. Which is now one of the four types of offenses under the new national security law.”
Beijing’s Hong Kong Liaison Office, its highest representative in the city, released a statement about the primary, saying, “With the support of external forces, opposition groups and leaders have deliberately devised plans to hold this so-called ‘primary election,’ which is a serious provocation to the current electoral system and caused serious damage to the fairness and justice of the Legislative Council elections.”
For many readers from democratic societies, some of these comments are likely confusing, such as the idea that primaries are “unfair” to the electoral system; something both Lam and the Liaison Office touched on. To clarify, Hong Kong has held primaries in the past, but beyond that, most countries don’t have primaries as part of the official election system. They’re independently run by the parties to narrow down candidates and are nearly universal in all democracies. This is even true in the United States, which is infamous for having a long and large primary election season.
Both statements also mentioned the 35-Plus plan. The name gives it away, but it’s a movement by pro-democracy parties to try and win 35 or more seats in the Legislative Council, which would allow them to block legislation and potentially force Lam’s resignation. While that might sound like politics as normal in a democracy, according to Lam, wanting to block all directives from Beijing is subverting state power and breaks the national security law.
Now, even if authorities don’t take it that far, Lam did state that many people who went to vote in person were in long lines, meaning groups larger than 50 people, which is currently illegal under the national security law.
Working with Foreign Powers
Hong Kong authorities also levied other serious accusations again primary organizers. The Liaison Office accused Benny Tai, a leading pro-democracy figure and organizer of the primaries, of trying to “seize the governance of Hong Kong and deliberately stage a ‘color revolution.’” Those are peaceful revolutions through civil disobedience and protests are. Famous ones in history include the Philippines’ Yellow Revolution, Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution, and Ukraine’s Orange Revolution.
Additionally, the Liaison office tried to insinuate that Tai and other opposition leaders were working with foreign powers, writing: “Who instructed [Tai] to openly manipulate the election in so high-profile a manner? Who gave him such confidence?”
They went on to say, “With the support of external forces, the opposition minority groups and head figures have deliberately devised plans to hold this so-called ‘primary election,’ which is a serious provocation to the current electoral system and a serious damage to the fairness and justice of the Legislative Council elections”
Under the national security law, these are serious crimes that aren’t uncommon in many nations. Most nations make it illegal to get undisclosed foreign help in an election. Under this law, working with foreign powers could mean a prison sentence of at least 10 years to life.
Hong Kong and Chinese authorities offered no proof to back up their claims that foreign entities were behind the weekend’s primaries.
See What Others Are Saying: (CNN) (The Independent) (The Hill)
Largest Network in the Philippines Denied Licensing Renewal, Reigniting Concerns Over Press Freedoms
- The Philippine’s largest broadcaster, ABS-CBN, has been officially taken off the air by the Filipino Congress.
- The outlet has been critical of President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs, which has seen thousands of Filipinos die in extra-judicial killings.
- This points to a growing trend of the president and his allies silencing outlets and individuals critical of him.
- The Philippines, once considered a stable and free democracy, currently ranks among the worst in the world when it comes to freedom of the press, according to the World Press Freedom Index.
Largest Broadcaster Pulled Off the Air
The Philippine’s largest broadcaster has been officially pulled off the air by the Filipino Congress after having its broadcast license renewal denied on Friday.
The outlet, called ABS-CBN, employs 11,000 people. It was available to an audience of 60 million and consistently was viewed by over 15 million. It was hoping to receive another 25-year broadcast license after its recent one expired in May.
However, that request was denied by a committee of the House of Representatives after 13 hearings. Most of the committee members are long-time allies of President Rodrigo Duterte, who has been extremely critical of the outlet since taking office.
Unlike other outlets petitioning for a license renewal, ABS-CBN weren’t allowed to continue using the free public airwaves while its application was pending, meaning it could only be a paid-subscription service.
Following the decision, ABS-CBN’s president and CEO, Carlo Katigbak, said in a statement on Friday, “We remain committed to public service, and we hope to find other ways to achieve our mission.” He went on to add the network was “deeply hurt” by the committee’s ruling.
The outlet can appeal, although there isn’t much hope that it’ll be successful.
Covering the War on Drugs
Duterte and his allies have long been critical of the outlet, claiming it’s biased, has long-standing labor violations, and is foreign-owned. This angle of attack was the focus of Duterte’s allies when they questioned the outlet during its hearings; however, many of these claims were debunked during the committee hearings.
As for the claims that its biased, that may be true. The outlet refused to air election ads from Duterte in 2016, and was accused by the then-candidate of favoring his opponent.
The outlet has since been a thorn in Duterte’s side because of its ongoing coverage of his drug war. Since taking office, Duterte has encouraged a war on drugs that has seen thousands of vigilante and capricious killings of civilians over accusations they are involved in the drug trade. Police have also been used to carry out attacks.
ABS-CBN has been extremely critical of the attacks and has long kept track of the extra-judicial killings, broadcasting their findings to millions of Filipinos. Duterte already wasn’t a fan of journalists, calling them “sons of bitches” and warning they weren’t exempt from physical attacks, but ABS-CBN’s reporting put it in the crosshairs of the president.
On multiple occasions, the president has stated that he planned to get the broadcaster’s license revoked, even as recently as December telling the station, “I will see to it that you’re out.”
However, despite his long history of disliking the outlet, the president’s spokesman, Harry Roque, tried to distance Duterte from the decision in a statement.
“The palace has maintained a neutral stance on the issue as it respects the separation of powers between the two coequal branches of government. Much as we want to work with the aforesaid media network, we have to abide by the resolution of the House committee,”
Duterte’s War on Journalists
ABS-CBN warned its 11,000 employees that if their license wasn’t renewed, they could expect to be laid off. Assuming their appeal is denied, that is expected to happen.
Congressman Carlos Zarate was appalled at this prospect and the committee’s decision, saying, “Why should we add 11,000 more to the number of unemployed in this most difficult time?” He was alluding to the coronavirus pandemic, which has hit the Philippines particularly hard with over 50,000 cases nationwide.
Human rights and media organizations decried the vote as a continuation of Duterte’s assault of the free press. The Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines said in a statement, “The decision deprives the Filipino people of an independent source of information when millions are grappling with the coronavirus pandemic.”
Another recent example of Duterte’s war against journalists is Maria Ressa, the head of the popular news site Rappler. She has also been critical of the government and its extrajudicial killings as part of its war on drugs. Last month, she was found guilty of libel in a case seen by many as an attempt to silence the site. She faces upwards of six years in prison.
Despite nominally enshrining the freedom of the press in its constitution, the Philippines ranks among the worst in the world in that regard, currently placed at 136 out of 180 on the World Press Freedom Index.
In addition to revoking the broadcast license of outlets that are critical of the president and charging reporters with libel, Reporters Without Borders claims, “Private militias, often hired by local politicians, silence journalists with complete impunity.”
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CBS News) (BBC)
Body of Missing Seoul Mayor Found Just Days After He Faced Sexual Harassment Allegations
- Park Won-Soon, the mayor of Seoul, was reported missing on Thursday and was found dead early Friday morning, days after reportedly being accused of sexual harassment by a former secretary.
- His death was officially considered a suicide after a note was found at his residence.
- The allegations are particularly shocking because Park was a known advocate for women’s rights and was considered a potential presidential candidate.
- His accuser suggested more of Park’s victims existed but were scared to come forward. In accordance with South Korean law, an investigation into the matter has been dropped because of his death.
Body Found at Bukaksan
The mayor of Seoul, a potential presidential candidate and arguably the second most powerful public official in the country, was found dead on Friday, roughly two days after a former secretary from his office accused him of sexually harassing her in 2017.
According to authorities, the body of Park Won-Soon was found on a forested hill on Bukaksan, a mountain in northern Seoul, not too far from his home in the Jongno neighborhood. CCTV footage showed the mayor arriving at the park by taxi at 10:53 a.m. on Thursday. By 5:17 p.m. Thursday, his daughter filed a police report stating that he “had left home four to five hours ago” and left a message that sounded like his will. By this point, his phone was turned off.
Shortly after the report, upwards of 600 officers, K-9 units, and medical personnel were dispatched to search for the mayor. At 12:01 a.m. Friday, his body was found near a bag, a water bottle, a cell phone, writing utensils, and Park’s business card. Police reported that there were no signs this case was a homicide, and after the unveiling of a note from his residence, it was considered a suicide.
In the note, Park wrote that he was “sorry” to everyone and specifically stated that he was sorry to his family for “causing only pain.” His note made no mention of the allegations against him.
Police are in talks with the Park family over whether to conduct an autopsy. In the meantime his body is being kept at Seoul National University Hospital, where supporters could be seen outside crying and shouting, “Get up, Park Won-Soon,” and “We’re sorry, Park Won-Soon!”
Park’s death is a dramatic loss for the city for a variety of reasons. Despite South Korea having the highest suicide rate among the member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, suicide by politicians is quite rare. Additionally, Park has been a staple of life in Seoul, which dominates the political landscape of South Korea. He was the longest serving mayor in the country’s history, having been in the role since 2011.
He was also considered a likely candidate to run for the Democratic party after President Moon Jae-in’s term was up in 2022 – the same time Park’s most recent mayoral tenure would end.
The circumstances leading up to his presumed-suicide have also left many South Korean citizens shocked. On Wednesday, a former secretary from his office went to police and filed a report accusing the mayor of sexual harassment, although this accusation wasn’t public until after Park went missing.
For years, South Korea has been embroiled in its own #MeToo reckoning, leading to many actors, businessmen, and politicians losing their positions and often facing jail time.
However, the allegations against Park, of which few details are actually known to the public, reportedly include unwanted physical contact and inappropriate messages. His alleged victim, according to Chosun Ilbo, gave investigators messages and inappropriate photos Park had sent her while she worked for him. She also allegedly said that there were more victims who were too scared to come forward.
The allegations are particularly shocking because of Park’s past. The mayor was long been considered a pillar of civil rights and women’s rights. He was famous for being a prominent civil rights attorney who founded the nation’s most influential civil rights group.
During his time as a lawyer, he campaigned on behalf of “comfort” women, Korean sex slaves who were forced into the role by the Japanese during the 1930s and ’40s. He also won major cases, including a case in the ’80s, during the country’s dictatorship, against a police officer who molested a woman while she was being interrogated. One of his biggest accolades was winning South Korea’s first sexual harassment case ever in the ’90s.
These actions were often praised by supporters because they challenged South Korea’s strict hierarchical and patriarchal structure, which are ingrained into the culture and language.
During his time as mayor, he focused on the environment and urban renewal for Seoul. Park also focused on fighting and containing COVID-19, leading to Seoul, a city of 10 million, having less than 2000 cases. For comparison, the city of Los Angeles, which is similar in population but less densely populated, had well over 50,000 cases.
Five Days of Funeral Services
In accordance with South Korean law, the police investigation against Park will be dropped due to his death. That’s because police won’t have someone to actually charge a crime with.
Although, when city officials were asked if they would be conducting their own investigation, officials said they are “not yet aware” of the allegations.
Park’s note mentioned that he wished to be cremated and have his ashes spread over his parents’ graves. Currently, the city of Seoul will be holding a mayoral funeral for Park, which means it will last five days. Generally speaking, Korean funerals last three days.
An altar will be set up in front of City Hall in Seoul for citizens and staff members wanting to mourn Park’s death.