Taiwanese reject legalizing same-sex marriage in referendum

Taiwan votes on gay marriage, controversial name change

Activists worldwide past year lauded Taiwan after its top court voted to legalise gay marriage, making it the first place in Asia to do so.

LGBT couples hope Taiwan will be the first place in Asia to recognize same-sex marriage, letting them share child custody and insurance benefits.

But on Saturday, Taiwanese voters firmly rejected same-sex marriage in a series of referendums.

The vote presents a challenge to President Tsai Ing-wen, who activists say has backed away from a promise of marriage equality which she made in the run-up to elections in 2016.

Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights, an LGBTIQ rights group, on Saturday reminded the government it is obliged to put the Council of Grand Justices' Constitutional Interpretation No. 748 in favor of same-sex marriage into law despite the referendum results.

Taiwanese voted Saturday in midterm local elections that are seen as a test for the ruling party and a referendum on the island's chilly relations with China, which has ramped up pressure on Taiwan to abandon any thought of independence.

Several votes were proposed, each by different groups: one (Case 10) that marriage should stay defined in the civil code as being between a man and a woman (which received 7.6 million votes), one (Case 12) saying same-sex unions should be protected under a different law (6 million) and another (Case 14) asking if same-sex couples should have equal marriage rights (3 million).

"The referendum is illegal and against the constitution, and has sharply divided and harmed the society", the Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan said in a statement.

Ten referendums were also held.

About thirteen million voters spoke out against gay marriage and only three million - for it.

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"This result demands a response from Tsai, and the obvious change would be to emphasize the DPP's strengths and the things that got Tsai in", said Jonathan Sullivan, director of Nottingham University's China Policy Institute.

"This is a tragic defeat for the DPP", Yao Chia-wen, a senior adviser to the president, told Reuters.

Accusations of Beijing meddling dominated Tsai and the DPP's pre-election campaigning as they accused China of a "fake news" onslaught, which Beijing has denied.

Taiwan hosts the region's largest annual gay-pride parade, drawing visitors from around the world, but the referendum drew clear fault lines across Taiwan socially, with embittered language marking high-visibility campaigns and rallies supporting both sides of the debate.

"The electoral results did not mean Taiwanese people have chosen to become closer to China", said Lai Chung-chiang, head of civil group Economic Democracy Union, which was heavily involved in 2014 protests that thwarted former KMT President Ma's attempt to deepen Taiwan's trade ties with China.

Some traditional DPP supporters had said ahead of the elections that they would punish the party as they felt tensions with China were damaging their businesses.

The ruling party DPP lost so badly on Saturday because it framed the vote as one between freedom or a Chinese takeover.

"The elections this time did not have much to do with unification with China or Taiwan independence", said Austin Wang, a political scientist at University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

A return to power for the party would be seen as a welcome development by the Chinese authorities, which have frozen all direct contact with Tsai after she declined to accept Beijing's claim that Taiwan belongs to "one China".

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