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September 23, 2017

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Same-sex marriage hinges on grand justices' ruling

Taiwan has taken one more step toward legalizing same-sex marriage, with the Constitutional Court on Friday setting a date for a public hearing on marriage equality. But there's no promise that the court's ruling will settle the dispute once and for all.

Many observers have pointed out that the 15-member court has seldom held public hearings for opposing sides to debate before the grand justices. But when it has, the rulings have usually been favorable to the petitioners who requested their judgments.

In the present case, the court has scheduled the debate for March 24 in response to pioneering gay rights activist Chi Chia-wei's petition for a judgment on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage, as well as a similar request from the Taipei City Government.

The fact that the highest court of the nation is acting on Chi's petition speaks volumes about the grand justices' attitude, in sharp contrast to the court's outright rejection of Chi's previous petition 16 years ago on the same issue.

Chi and his camp seem to stand a good chance of winning the case this time as five of the seven recently-sworn-in justices to the court reportedly have shown friendly positions toward marriage equality.

And it is beyond doubt that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration sides with the gay rights camp, with President Tsai Ing-wen having shown public support for same-sex marriage. In fact, the pro-same-sex marriage campaign has picked up momentum since Tsai took office, with four bills legalizing same-sex marriage having been forwarded to the Legislature.

Despite the progress and momentum of the campaign, same-sex marriage remains divisive. Many religious and conservative activists have been battling vehemently against same-sex marriage.

Even within the DPP camp there have been differences among lawmakers over how marriage equality should be enforced. Gay rights activists have demanded that the provisions governing marriage in the Civil Code be revised to include same-sex marriage. This would mean that all kinds of married couples — of different or the same sex — are treated equally and enjoy the same rights under the Civil Code.

They are against the writing of special provisions for same-sex-marriage, which they say would be another form of discrimination. But supporters of the writing of a special law — including DPP legislative caucus leader Ker Chien-ming — argue that this approach would be less controversial and more feasible.

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