When Taiwan’s high court passed a resolution in May 2017 ruling it was unconstitutional to ban same-sex couples from getting married, it was seen as a rare beam of light in a region infamous of its repression of LGBT people.
But the ruling, which gave legislators a two-year deadline in which to enshrine marriage equality into law, could soon be in doubt.
Conservative groups have taken advantage of government deadlock to rally against the change, forcing the issue to a public vote, devastating LGBT couples and potentially plunging the administration of President Tsai Ing-wen into a constitutional crisis.
On Saturday, three referendum questions on same-sex marriage will be put to Taiwanese voters when they head to the polls for local government elections – two drafted by conservatives and one by LGBT activists.
If one of the questions opposing same-sex marriage passes, the government could be compelled to enforce a law already ruled unconstitutional.
Further complicating matters, there remains broad disagreement among legal experts on whether Tsai’s administration is mandated to enact the result into law.
One lawmaker from the president’s Democratic Progressive Party told CNN any positive result “must pass” in the next legislative session, but a legal expert insisted it was “up to lawmakers” how they dealt with the result.
Taiwan is home to one of Asia’s largest and most vibrant gay communities. Many of its citizens take great pride in the island’s progressive, LGBT-friendly values. If it does approve same-sex marriage, it would become the first place in Asia to do so.
But as the voting day nears, fears are growing that those same values are beginning to shift, amid what gay and lesbian groups claim is a flood of deliberate disinformation spread to confuse the public ahead of the landmark ballot.
A campaign budget of more than $3.24 million has reportedly been raised by leading conservative group the Alliance for the Happiness of the Next Generation, whose advertisements have been seen on billboards and front pages of newspapers.
“The referendums have already caused great divide and damage in our society. There are so many conflicts erupting on the streets,” said Lin Yiru, who is hoping to marry her girlfriend Chen Yiling if legislation is passed.
“It’s not just about the referendum anymore… Whatever the results, damage has already been done,” added Lin.
Across social media, rumors have circulated as to what could happen in Taiwan if same-sex marriage became legal, including false reports that other places that have passed the laws have regretted it.
“The opposition says, ‘If Taiwan passes marriage equality, HIV-positive people will come to Taiwan and flood our health system’ and ‘The government ministers are going to teach same-sex behaviors in elementary school from first grade,” same-sex marriage advocate Jennifer Lu told CNN.
“We’re practicing how to discuss political issues with people of different opinions. It’s not just about same-sex marriage, it’s about our democracy, where all views are protected,” added Lu.
Groups opposed to same-sex marriage becoming legal in Taiwan were contacted by CNN for this article but did not return requests for an interview.
Do you agree?
Saturday’s referendum is confusing to say the least.
With three separate questions being asked on the issue of marriage equality, there’s nothing to stop a single voter agreeing to a variety of different, contradictory answers, meaning the Taiwan government could end up being forced to try to legislate both outcomes – simultaneously.