EDITORIAL: Vote For Marriage Equality—And For Free Inquiry
The views expressed herein represent the views of a majority of members of the Caravel’s Editorial Board and are not reflective of the position of the newsroom staff or Georgetown University.
Less than a month after 137,000 people marched in East Asia’s largest Gay Pride parade, Taiwanese voters will go to the polls on November 24 to decide on several ballot questions that could either advance gay rights or see the victory of long-standing, conservative Chinese values.
Taiwan, formally the Republic of China, could become the first country in East Asia to legalize gay marriage after a May 2017 Judicial Yuan ruling ordered the government to set the terms for legalization within two years. President Tsai Ing-wen, who campaigned on a pro-gay marriage platform, was expected to champion the new laws, but gay rights activists have criticized her for her lukewarm support.
The Legislative Yuan has mooted the possibility of separate civil unions for same-sex couples as a less controversial option, but it remains unclear whether such a law would continue to violate the Constitution and the 2017 court order. Regardless of whether such a law would be legal, we believe that it would continue the current system of discrimination. America’s own turbulent past should be proof enough to Taiwan and Tsai that separate is never equal.
It is concerning that the issue of marriage equality is being left to a referendum. Human rights should not be left up to the will of the populace—one of the most essential roles of government in republican societies is to prevent the tyranny of the majority and defend the equal rights of all people. To deny a group of people the right to marry—which is accorded to all other citizens—is to perpetuate an unequal system that only retrenches the conservative social values, which have, time and again, been used as a cudgel with which to attack the radical idea of equality under the law.
Endorsing marriage equality is one way that the Taiwanese people can once more show the strength of their vibrant democracy, which has flourished against all odds in a post-authoritarian society that continues to exist in the shadow of the much larger People’s Republic of China, which routinely violates human rights. Endorsing marriage equality is one way that Taiwan can become a shining example of the future in a region long weakened by conservative social values, which have tended to hide the marginalized, the different, and the ‘strange.’
There are other questions on Taiwan’s November 24 ballot, however, that require more careful consideration and more nuanced discussion. Two competing proposals deal with the national curriculum of Taiwanese primary and secondary schools. The first, proposed by a conservative activist group, calls for “homosexual-related education” to be curtailed. The second, proposed alongside the ballot question legalizing same-sex marriage, would require that “education should cover courses on emotional education, sex education, and gay and lesbian education.”
While this editorial board supports better emotional and sexual education, it also recognizes the importance of free academic inquiry. Requiring certain subjects be included in the national curriculum is just as much a government overreach as preventing their inclusion. If Taiwan votes to bar teachers from teaching about homosexuality, it will be censoring free inquiry and expression. However, if it votes to require it, then it will violate free expression in much the same way.
In dealing with such a sensitive issue, it is important that the Taiwanese understand the line between more inclusive rights that undo existing discriminatory legislation towards a certain group of individuals and a state-sponsored education program that will teach a generation of children about which “lifestyle” is socially acceptable and which is not. While the former is about democratizing the right to get married to the person one loves, the latter sees the state entering dangerous territory and meddling with individual beliefs and divisive social issues.
The best way to change hearts and minds on the issue of same-sex marriage in Taiwan will not be through legislated educational curricula but through a shared societal acceptance of homosexuality and an acknowledgement of the country’s history of homophobia.
On balance, the Editorial Board of the Caravel encourages the Taiwanese people to vote to preserve essential academic freedoms, end a legal system that has prevented gay people from enjoying equal rights, and make history as the first East Asian state to legalize same-sex marriage.
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