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- Taiwan woke up on Sunday morning a very different island following a series of political blows that dashed hopes of moving toward legalizing same-sex marriage.
- Last year, Taiwan’s highest court ruled that same-sex couples had the right to legally marry and set a two-year deadline for legalization. The move seemingly set Taiwan on the path to becoming the first country in Asia to legalize marriage equality.
- But on Saturday, Taiwanese voters firmly rejected same-sex marriage in a series of referendums.
- President Tsai Ing-wen also resigned as party leader of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party after it suffered a major electoral defeat.
Following a series of referendums listed on the ballot for Saturday’s island-wide city mayoral elections, Taiwanese residents voted to reject same-sex marriage.
The vote on the contested island that China considers a breakaway province has also led to the resignation of President Tsai Ing-wen from the pro-Independence ruling Democratic Progressive Party after her fierce rivals at the China-friendly Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang, won numerous key seats.
Residents backed a question that moved to define marriage as between a man and a woman, casting aside a May 2017 ruling in Taiwan’s highest court that same-sex couples had the right to legally marry and that set a two-year deadline for legalization.
The move had seemingly set Taiwan on path to become the first country in Asia to legalize marriage equality.
- SAM YEH/AFP/Getty Images
But more than 6 million Taiwanese voters approved the series of conservative initiatives that opposed same-sex marriage equality, passing the threshold needed for a public vote.
“We are deeply saddened and disappointed by the referendum results,” Jennifer Lu, the chief coordinator of Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan, told the Financial Times on Monday.
Voters also rejected the proposal that Taiwan ought to compete at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games under the name Taiwan rather than Chinese Taipei.
The scale of defeat was far greater than expected
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The vote was just another headache in a terrible result for Tsai, who has been attacked from both sides for her formerly strong positions on the issue.
The scale of defeat was far greater than expected, with Tsai’s DPP losing seven cities and counties of the 13 it held, including its traditional strongholds of Kaohsiung and Yilan.
The final blow on a shocking night for the DPP and many of the liberals and progressives who carried it into power came with the news that Taiwan – considered to be one of Asia’s most progressive societies – had overwhelmingly voted against the legalization of same-sex marriage under the civil code.
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.
In the lead-up to the weekend’s election, Tsai began to distance herself from a pledge to support marriage equality.
Since snatching office in 2016, Tsai has pursued a stronger stance against an increasingly assertive Beijing.
China cheered with relief at the heavy losses endured by the DPP, claiming it showed people wanted peaceful relations – and ultimately unification – with Beijing.
Over the weekend it was the China-friendly Kuomintang that snatched ground against the DPP, forcing Tsai to shoulder the blame for heavy losses and resign as party leader effective immediately.
“Today, democracy taught us a lesson,” the president said in Taipei on Saturday night.
Elections results were rife with allegations of Chinese interference. Tsai has repeatedly accused China of meddling in the elections by operating a Russia-style misinformation campaign.
The standard bearer of Taiwan’s pro-independence movement, Tsai has about 12 months before elections in January 2020 to galvanize the support she has squandered if she doesn’t want to become the island’s first one-term president.