Lecture discusses Taiwanese same-sex marriage laws

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This talk discussing Taiwanese LGBTQ+ rights was hosted in Washington Hall. Courtesy Photo / wm.edu

Thursday, Nov. 14, Virginia Commonwealth University assistant professor Ying-Chao Kao gave an informative speech about same-sex marriage laws in Taiwan and elaborated upon the transnational influence of conservative groups.  

 Kao received his Ph.D. in sociology from Rogers University in 2018, specializing in sexuality, masculinity, global religions and inequality. In his current research, he focuses on Christian conservative activism around the world and strives to analyze the influence of Taiwanese and American pro-family family groups on the rights of Taiwanese LGBTQ+ individuals.  

 Kao opened the speech by discussing Taiwan’s newly passed law permitting same-sex marriage, which made it the first area in Asia to legalize the practice. Over five hundred same-sex couples got married May 17, the first day of legal same sex marriage; however, many months later, sexual conservatism perpetuated throughout Asia and influences Taiwanese social and political spheres, Kao said. 

 Kao mentioned that conservative activists in Taiwan want to use recently amended referendum laws as a mechanism for potentially outlawing the Taiwanese Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage bill, which allowed legalization to take place. 

“This may sound weird in some American people’s ears since the Supreme Court should have a final say with the decision,” Kao said. “But consider the case that Taiwan is a young democracy so that the last generations still have an unclear recognition about constitutional decisions.”

 “This may sound weird in some American people’s ears since the Supreme Court should have a final say with the decision,” Kao said. “But consider the case that Taiwan is a young democracy so that the last generations still have an unclear recognition about constitutional decisions.”  

Kao then discussed the legalization process of same-sex marriage. He specified Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party’s effort in this movement and detailed how the party interacted with different citizen perspectives on legalization throughout the past several years. Kao further illustrated that Taiwan may see conservative backlash to the decision in its upcoming presidential election in January 2020.  

Kao showed a video clip from CNN which was was meant to debunk common Western perceptions about same-sex marriage in Taiwan. Kao first affirmed Taiwan’s leading role in LGBTQ+ movements in Asia and added that the influence of these movements is not limited in same-sex-marriage but also extends to Taiwan’s presence in the international community. 

“Not being Rainbow washed or pink-washed by the homonationalism,” Kao said. “As a sociologist, I want to contextualize our studies to international organizations against LGBT groups.” 

 Kao then displayed a map of global LGBTQ+ rights, which depicted varying levels of societal and political acceptance of the community. In the global map of LGBTQ+ rights, Taiwan was presented as the only colored dot in Asia, signifying its relevant tolerance compared to other countries in the region. Kao illustrated that though most of the colored countries on the map were located in North America and Europe and indicated that Taiwan’s openness reveals a bold statement: gay rights are not only Western, they can be found in Asia as well. 

 Kao then explained the meaning of the prolonged acronym for LGBTQ+, which is “LGBTQQIAA”, standing for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Asexual and Allies. He also illustrated the Chinese term “Tongzhi”, and how it transformed from the meaning of “comrade” to the modern synonym of “gay”.  

“In fact, ‘Love Slogan’ was strategically and evidentially selected,” Kao said. “Because the marriage equality campaign in Taiwan did use big data and social surveys to look for what kinds of keywords can mobilize the most Taiwanese people to vote for marriage equality.”

 “In fact, ‘Love Slogan’ was strategically and evidentially selected,” Kao said. “Because the marriage equality campaign in Taiwan did use big data and social surveys to look for what kinds of keywords can mobilize the most Taiwanese people to vote for marriage equality.” 

 Kao continued by explaining the faults in the differing slang used to represent LGBTQ+ people and how they failed to overcome the oppositions argument.  

 “Ironically, they found those queer words, such as human rights, social justice, etc. — they didn’t work,” Kao said. “But love, family, values, the protection of our children by constitutional laws — they work a lot.” 

 Kao then presented the second video clip named “Granny Chuntao’s Tips for Marriage” as an example to show that family consists of an important element in the marriage equality advocation.  

 The talk then transitioned to discuss more nuance of the situation in Taiwan. Kao mentioned the non-negligible resistance from Taiwan’s conservative groups as a key opponent to social change.  

 “Beyond the celebration of gay marriage, Taiwan witnessed the largest backlash of the rise of the anti-gay, conservative campaign,” Kao said. “In 2011, the anti-LGBTQ+ education launched their first-ever anti-gay campaign named ‘True Love Alliance’ with the major objection to eliminating any themes related to diversified sexual orientation from the formal education. The first anti-LGBT bill was sent to the Legislative Yuan in Taiwan. In 2015, one year after the Presbyterians voted to allow same-sex marriage in America, the Taiwan branch of the church reaffirmed the definition of marriage to happen between ‘a man and woman.’” 

Through this background, Kao attempted to develop a solution for the conservative’s resistance to marriage equality. He traced back to one common thought of homophobic communities, namely that some conservatives fear that gender diversified education will lead to more LGBTQ+ children. Kao said that this false theory of indoctrination first originated in the United States, but it persists throughout conservative groups globally. 

At the end of his speech, Kao gave key takeaways to the audience, including the importance of not demeaning sexual conservatives’ power since it can prove influential. 

In a question and answer session following Kao’s prepared remarks, one student asked about the reason for the effectiveness of religion towards LGBTQ+ rights movements. Kao listed several reasons, including abundant resources and the impressive penetration of some extreme conservative groups, in explaining how religion can impact social rights movements. 

 Cassandra Brackett ’21 enjoyed Kao’s speech and thought he did well at illustrating the complexities of same-sex marriage in Taiwan.  

 “He made it very clear and he also made a lot of good points,” Brackett said. “I feel like there’s a lot of points he skipped over, and I’m sure I’ll shoot him an email to ask for more.” 

 William Liu ’22 commented on the main points of Koa’s talk and discussed what the takeaways were.

 “In this 80-minute talk, Professor Kao gave an exhaustive description toward a very complex subject–homosexual marriage,” Liu  said. “The legitimization of homosexual marriage in Taiwan filled co-workers aiming for equal marriage in Asia and Middle East countries with hope. However, just as he pointed out, we should not be over-optimistic. Just as the transnational support, there is also the existence of transnational anti-LGBTQ. Also, just as he stated, the acceptance from the Supreme Court doesn’t mean the passage of the Equal Marriage Act. The way ahead will not be easy, and many challenges and setbacks along the way.” 

Updated 11/20/19 – Correction: Changing “Over five hundred same-sex couples got married May 17, the first day of legal same sex marriage; however, many months later, sexual conservatism perpetuated throughout the country and influences Taiwanese social and political spheres, Kao said.” to “Over five hundred same-sex couples got married May 17, the first day of legal same sex marriage; however, many months later, sexual conservatism perpetuated throughout Asia and influences Taiwanese social and political spheres, Kao said.”