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Ruling puts Taiwan on verge of being first in Asia to have same-sex marriage

The LGBT community and its supporters across Asia and the world are celebrating today after a landmark ruling in Taiwan that paves the way for same-sex marriage.

The decision cements Taiwan's role as a trailblazer in the region, where gay rights are often contentious and same-sex sexual activity sometimes outlawed.

Longtime gay rights activist Chi Chia-wei was one of the petitioners who brought the case to the Constitutional Court.

Chi asked the court to rule on whether the Civil Code, which defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, was in violation of the Constitution.

The court ruled that restricting people of the same gender from marrying was unconstitutional, and it ordered the government to revise the offending article within two years.

In an English-language version of its decision, the court stated: "Disallowing two persons of the same sex to marry ... is a different treatment, also obviously having no rational basis. Such different treatment is incompatible with the spirit and meaning of the right to equality as protected by Article 7 of the Constitution."

Victoria Hsu, a lawyer representing Chi, previously said that a favorable ruling for the marriage equality platform would set a deadline for the Legislative Yuan to amend the Civil Code.

Supporters burst into cheering as well as tears of joy outside the court after the decision was announced.

Legalizing same-sex marriage, a platform that President Tsai Ing-wen campaigned hard on back in 2016, has picked up pace in the past year. In December, lawmakers passed the first draft of a bill to amend the Civil Code in order to legalize gay marriage.

The bill, proposed by ruling Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Yu Mei-nu, replaces "male and female parties" in the Civil Code's marriage chapter with "two parties."

However, some traditionalist groups, mostly religious organizations, have sought to slow the progress toward legalization. They have staged several large-scale protests against marriage equality, with some conservative activists demanding a referendum on the matter.

Local surveys have found same-sex marriage to be a generational issue, with younger people largely supportive of it and older people generally against it.

Despite the landmark ruling, a number of challenges still need to be overcome before the Legislature can formally legalize same-sex marriage.

Kuomintang lawmaker Jason Hsu said in a Facebook post on Tuesday night that the next step for lawmakers was determining how to amend the law. They may choose to either directly revise the Civil Code to have more inclusive language or they may legislate a separate "special law" governing same-sex marriage — an option critics say would be discriminatory.

They argue that same-sex couples should be subject to the same laws as one-man one-woman couples.

Taiwan has long been considered a beacon of LGBT rights in Asia, specifically for its annual Taipei gay pride march, the largest in Asia.

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