Taiwan: ‘Milestone’ equal marriage case sent to top court

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A Taiwanese court which had been scheduled to give a decision today on the case of a gay couple who had appealed to have their marriage legally recognised, made no ruling, and instead sent the case to the country’s top court.

The court made the decision to pass the case on to the Grand Justices, the highest leve of Taiwan’s legal system, higher than the Supreme Court, and will meet once more on 15 January in order to confirm that decision, reported the South China Morning Post. 

According to Huang Kuo-cheng, a lawyer representing the couple in this case, said the proceedings for a constitutional interpretation could take up to a year.

“The court is preparing to ask the Grand Justices to make further explanations on the case,” an official at the Taipei High Administrative Court said.

A leading LGBT rights advocate, Chi Chia-wei, expressed disappointment at the decision: “The judges showed no spine on this critical case. This could have become a milestone case for all Asia.”

Following a three-judge hearing on 29 November, the Taipei High Administrative Court had been scheduled to give a decision on the case of a gay couple who had requested to have their marriage be given legal status.

Nelson Chen and Kao Chih-wei filed the lawsuit against the Taipei city government for rejecting their attempt to register their marriage, reported AfterMarriage.

The couple held a public wedding banquet in 2006, a year before the civil code was amended to require that all marriages be officially registered with the government for legal recognition.

Before the amendment, marriages in Taiwan were considered legal given that a public ceremony was held with witnesses present.

The pair applied to register their marriage in August 2011, but were rejected by the district household registration office.

They appealed to the Taipei City Government, which also rejected their case in late 2011, which was what led them to take legal action.

During the hearing on 29 November, two expert witnesses spoke strongly in favour of allowing the couple’s marriage legal recognition, and of legalising marriage equality.

The first argument that was made was that discriminating against gay couples would violate the consitututiion, which states that all citizens are equal before the law, “irrespective of sex, religion, race, class or party affiliation.”

The other point was that Article 982 of the civil code does not specifically say that marriage should be between one man and one woman, as it just details the procedures for registering a marriage.

Critics said the second argument could prove more difficult to convince the court of, as Article 972, does state “an agreement to marry shall be made by the male and female parties.”

The Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights, an equal marriage advocacy group, has been pushing a bill which focusses on amending such gender-specific language from the code.

Bruce Liao, an associate professor of law at National Chengchi University, said: “No matter what the court rules, it is the beginning of society seriously discussing the issue of gay marriage.”

Witnesses at the hearing said that the defendant in the case, the district household registration office, did not take a stance on equal marriage.

Two women were married in a Buddhist ceremony in Taiwan back in August, in what was believed to have been the first known ceremony of its kind to be held in the country.