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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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Saudi Arabia To Require Vaccine for Hajj Pilgrims

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  • Saudi Arabia will require all pilgrims participating in the Hajj this year to be vaccinated against COVID-19, according to local media.
  • The Hajj is a pilgrimage to Mecca that all Muslims are required to take at least once in their lifetime if they are physically or financially able to.
  • Many believe the inoculation requirement may help allay suspicions over vaccines within certain Muslim communities.
  • Those suspicions have persisted despite Muslim leaders clarifying that there are no theological problems with taking any of the COVID-19 vaccines available.

COVID-19 Vaccines for Pilgrims

Saudi Arabia’s health ministry will only allow people vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend the Hajj this year, according to local outlet Okaz.

The Hajj is a mandatory pilgrimage to Mecca for all Muslims at least once in their lifetime – assuming they are physically and financially able to. However, requiring a vaccine before taking part in the Hajj isn’t a new thing. In fact, Saudi Arabia already has a list of necessary vaccinations for pilgrims.

For a virus that is among the most virulent in recent history and requiring a COVID-19 vaccine makes sense, especially since the Hajj is among the most densely populated events in the world.

In an effort to combat COVID-19, Saudi Arabia has also introduced restrictions over how many pilgrims can come to Mecca for the first time in modern history.

Requiring the COVID-19 vaccine to partake in the Hajj will likely have the added benefit of allaying fears about COVID-19 vaccines in Muslim communities, which account for nearly 2 billion people in the world. While Muslims overall support vaccinations and their religious leaders openly support vaccination efforts, some do doubt vaccines for either political reasons or religious ones.

Changes in Vaccine Hesitancy

Suspicions have arisen due to recent history, notably after Osama bin Laden was located through a vaccine program that acted as a front for the C.I.A. That incident led to a wider-anti vaccine movement in parts of Pakistan that have seen vaccine clinics burned to the ground.

Others are worried over more religious concerns, such as whether the vaccines are Halal, which is roughly the Muslim version of Kosher. To that, most major vaccines say that they are Halal and contain no animal products, such as Pfizer’s, Moderna’s, and AstraZeneca’s,

While other possibly non-Halal vaccines, such as Sinovac’s, have been given the okay from major Islamic authorities, such as Indonesia’ Ulema Council.

The concerns over whether a vaccine is Halal or not may be mute as most imams and Islamic councils have clarified that such dietary restrictions are trumped by the need to save human lives.

While the Health Ministry’s statement is for 2021, it’s possible that the decision will last beyond that based on the pandemic’s progress.

See what other are saying: (Al Jazeera) (The Hill) (Middle East Eye)

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E.U. and U.S. Sanction Russian Officials Over Navalny Detention

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  • The E.U. and U.S. coordinated new sanctions against seven Russian officials tied to the current fate of activist and Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny.
  • More efforts are expected to follow, with officials claiming that 14 Russian entities tied to the manufacturing of Novichok – the rare nerve agents that supposedly poisoned Navalny – are the next to be sanctioned.
  • Despite the sanctions, Biden’s administration hopes to be able to work with Russia on other world issues, such as nuclear arms in Iran and North Korea.
  • Navalny himself isn’t likely to benefit from the sanctions as he’s serving a 2.5-year prison sentence in one of Russia’s most notorious penal colonies.

Coordinated Efforts by E.U. and U.S.

The U.S. and E.U. both announced coordinated sanctions against Russia Tuesday morning over the poisoning, arrest, and detention of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny.

In particular, seven senior officials are targeted by the sanctions.

  • Federal Security Service Director Aleksandr Bortnikov
  • Chief of the Presidential Policy Directorate Andrei Yarin
  • First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office Sergei Kiriyenko
  • Deputy Minister of Defense Aleksey Krivoruchko
  • Deputy Minister of Defense Pavel Popov
  • Federal Penitentiary Service director Alexander Kalashnikov
  • Prosecutor General Igor Krasnov.

Both the E.U. and U.S. also plan to add fourteen entities that are involved in making the extremely deadly Russian nerve agent Novichok.

First Step For Biden

These sanctions are the first such action by the Biden administration against Russia and seem to be a tone shift from the previous administration. The Trump administration was considered relatively soft on Russia and only enacted a few sanctions over election interference, which were only softly enforced.

One U.S. official, according to NBC News reportedly said, that “today is the first such response, and there will be more to come.”

“The United States is neither seeking to reset our relations with Russia nor are we seeking to escalate,” the official went on to add.

The man at the center of all this, Alexei Navalny, has been an outspoken critic of Putin who was arrested when he returned to Russia from Germany after being treated for Novichok poisoning.

He was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison over alleged fraud crimes and is reported to have been sent to one of Russia’s worst penal colonies outside of the city of Pokrov to serve out his term.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (NPR) (NBC News)

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Biden Faces Criticism Over U.S. Airstrike in Syria

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  • On Friday, the U.S. conducted an airstrike against an Iranian-back militia in Syria after it shot rockets into northern Iraq and injured U.S. service personnel.
  • The airstrike marks the first in Biden’s presidency, and while normally a routine response, it caused particular backlash against the president, who campaigned on getting out of “forever wars” in the region.
  • Many felt like Biden was more concerned with bombing people in the Middle-East than he was with passing his $1.9 trillion stimulus package, which was being debated by Congress at the time.
  • The targeting of an Iranian-backed militia likely didn’t help efforts to start informal talks with Iran on Sunday in an effort to reignite the Iran Nuclear Deal.

Striking Back Against Militias

The U.S. military conducted an airstrike on an Iranian-backed militia in Syria on Friday, marking it as the first such airstrike under President Joe Biden’s term.

The airstrike was conducted as retaliation after the militia launched rockets into northern Iraq; killing civilians, contractors, and injuring a U.S. service member as well as other coalition troops.

Despite airstrikes being a routine response for such situations over the last 20 years, the decision caused Biden to face intense backlash in the U.S.

For many, it set the tone and seemed to contradict some of his earlier stances when running for office. In 2019, for instance, Biden made it clear that he wanted to get out of Iraq as soon as possible, as well as speed up the removal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. However, such airstrikes are often blamed for further entrenching the U.S. in the region.

Biden received criticism across the political spectrum, with only a few conservatives praising the airstrike as a necessary move to protect U.S. troops.

In Congress, many Democrats called the move unconstitutional, a stance the party has had since at least 2018 when Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said a similar airstrike conducted by President Trump required the approval of Congress. The Biden administration pushed back against this, sending a letter to Congress on Sunday saying the president had the power to use limited force without the body’s approval via the War Power Act.

Public Perception in a Downward Spiral

Many Americans have mocked Biden for seemingly feeling comfortable enough to use his executive power to bomb militias while also expressing apprehension toward using that same power to forgive student loans.

Others pushed back against the idea that the airstrike was a form of defensive retaliation

“This latest Biden airstrike is being spun as “defensive” and “retaliatory” despite its targeting a nation the US invaded (Syria) in response to alleged attacks on US forces in another nation the US invaded (Iraq),” wrote one user on Twitter, “You can’t invade a nation and then claim self-defense there. Ever.”

Some of the biggest criticism the president received came from those who said it seemed like his priorities were off-base. Because while the airstrike was conducted, Congress was debating his $1.9 trillion stimulus package.

Civil Rights activist Ja’Mal Green, for instance, tweeted, “We didn’t flip Georgia Blue for Biden to air strike Syria. We flipped Georgia Blue for our $2,000 Stimulus Checks.”

However, it’s worth noting that there’s not much Biden can do right now to push his stimulus package through Congress, other than attempt to convince some on-the-fence senators like Joe Manchin (D-WV). Still, the perception of confused priorities was enough to anger many.

All of this likely didn’t help when the E.U. foreign policy chief, on behalf of all the countries who signed the Iran Nuclear deal, attempted to convince Iran to engage in informal talks to try and restart the deal on Sunday. A proposal was shot down by Iran.

Considering the recent actions and statements by the United States and three European powers, Iran does not consider this the time to hold an informal meeting with these countries,” said Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh

See what others are saying: (BBC) (NBC) (CNN)

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