Mr. Chi Chia-wei (祁家威), the well-respected marriage equality activist in Taiwan, represented by lawyers at the Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights (TAPCPR), requested a constitutional interpretation (the equivalent of a Supreme Court ruling) on the issue of same-sex marriage and won a favorable Constitutional Court ruling in Judicial Yuan Interpretation No. 748 on May 24, 2017. Unfortunately, the Central Election Commission (CEC) has allowed three referendum proposals initiated by local anti-gay groups to go forward. This move has negative political ramifications on future law regarding marriage equality and on LGBT awareness education.
Always on the front lines of the fight for equal rights, TAPCPR will not stand on the sidelines and allow such referendums, which we strongly suspect of being unconstitutional and illegal, to succeed and bring harm to Taiwan’s constitutional democracy and LGBT rights. We took the initiative to start the “Say No to Anti-gay Referendums” movement in April. What follows is a brief introduction to our overall strategies. Please join our call to action in any way you can.
First, we launched an information campaign and civic movement to block the second-stage signature drive.
Having passed the CEC’s initial review, the anti-gay camp began its second-stage signature drive in mid-May, seeking to collect a minimum of 281,745 valid signatures required to piggyback the referendums on the November 24 general elections. If various procedural technicalities are taken into account, the anti-gay camp will have to obtain those signatures by the end of August, to be on the safe side. Judging from its foundation, strengths, and organizational capability, this is theoretically achievable, but it will not be a walk in the park for them. From our observation, the anti-gay camp often resorts to using disinformation to trick the public into signing, and some of their methods border on the criminal. Dozens of people have told us that they either signed under a mistaken understanding of the issue or were pressured into giving their signature. As a result, in terms of strategy, TAPCPR deemed it advisable to inform the public of relevant legal knowledge to prevent illegal behavior. This will also help to slow down their progress. We have produced informational materials, analyses, and specific action plans for various scenarios. (Please refer to the “Anti-gay Referendums” portion of TAPCPR’s official website for details, and follow our ongoing “Say No Action” live casts on Facebook.) We also continue to hold lectures and provide volunteer training. Please join us in blocking the opposition’s second-stage signature drive.
The anti-gay camp will fail in piggybacking the referendums on the November elections if it does not gather enough signatures in time. Even if it reaches its goal, all the efforts we put in in blocking the signature drive—the education, advocacy, training, and mobilizing the public—will not be in vain. They will readily transform into the strength in votes against the opposition on the November 24 election day!
Second, we will waste no time in bringing judicial counter-actions.
Given that the three anti-gay referendums are strongly suspected of being unconstitutional and illegal, TAPCPR lawyers have promptly filed ten petitions on behalf of multiple clients and requested the CEC to cease further processing of said referendums. All ten petitions have recently been denied. We will therefore file for administrative litigations as a legal recourse. The significance of this separate line of attack lies in forcing a review of the constitutionality and legality of said referendums via judicial procedures, with the objective of preventing them from taking place. Should they pass by public vote in November, we will have preserved the possibility of challenging their validity through judicial rulings or constitutional interpretations.
Third, any efforts made in blocking opposition’s second-stage signature drive, while far from being a waste, may bring an early and definitive victory in advance of November 24.
Should the anti-gay signature drive succeed in putting the referendums on the ballot, we must counteract them with the the right approach. This requires deep analysis of various social conditions and the general atmosphere in order to produce the most effective information strategy in defeating these referendums, such as calling on the public to cast a “No” vote, or to refuse to receive a ballot.
The CEC stated that the government will have to enforce the ruling of Interpretation No. 748 and allow same-sex marriage even if the public votes to pass two marriage-related referendums sponsored by the opposition. (The outcome will likely be a newly enacted “Same-Sex Marriage Act” as a result of compelling legislators not to revise the existing marriage law in the Civil Code, instead of a “Same-Sex Partnership Act” or “Same-Sex Union Act”, which the anti-gay camp has tried to sell in the referendum proposals.) In addition, the Ministry of Education has asserted that LGBT awareness education is part and parcel of gender equality education. A ban on the former through a public vote will be difficult to implement. We know that enforcement is not really the opponents’ goal; they know full well that the referendums will have limited legal effect even if they are passed. Rather, it is changes in social atmosphere and the manifestation of political power that are key. This is why we cannot afford to lose this battle. We must prevail!
The three anti-gay referendums would need at least 4,695,748 “Yes” votes, and more “Yes” votes than “No” votes, on November 24 in order to pass. This is not an easy threshold. However, even if they fail, political parties and politicians will consider the “Yes” votes an important guide, to some degree (even though the value of such votes as a guide will be reduced, even completely lost, if the turnout is rather low). For this reason, the referendums should not be treated lightly; we must fight them in earnest.
At present, it is anyone’s guess whether the opposition will meet the signature threshold in time. TAPCPR will continue to pursue judicial actions to preserve the ability of overturning an unfavorable outcome. Yet we hope everyone will join hands in proactively preventing the opposition from meeting the signature threshold rather than being resigned to campaigning for a “No” vote on November 24. If we succeed in stopping the anti-gay referendums by the end of August, we will have spared ourselves the humiliation of receiving a ballot with the three ridiculous referendums on election day! Let’s work hard together!
Victoria Hsu (許秀雯), President of TAPCPR and attorney at law
June 29, 2018
(Translated by Eric Liao)