台北

Asia's First Mass Same-Sex Wedding (凱道同婚宴)

On May 24th, 2017, the Constitutional Court (司法院), Taiwan’s version of the Supreme Court, ruled that the right to equality and freedom of marriage under the constitution of the Republic of China must also be guaranteed to same-sex couples.

The ruling, “Judicial Yuan Interpretation No 748” (釋字第748號) became a hot topic of public debate throughout the country and would result in a couple of referendums opposing changes to the definition of marriage. The decision made by the High Court however wouldn’t be reversed, so the government had two years to come up with a solution that would bring marriage laws in compliance with the ruling. 

Instead of being proactive, the government procrastinated and pushed the topic aside for as long as it could. The ruling of the Constitutional Court however demanded that action be taken before the deadline of May 24th, 2019 when registration of same-sex marriages would automatically come into effect.

In February 2019, with time running out and pressure from both sides mounting, the cabinet introduced a draft bill to the Legislative Yuan (立法院) titled the “Enforcement Act of the Judicial Yuan Interpretation No. 748” (司法院釋字748號解釋施行法) for consideration. Likewise, opposing parties also introduced their own draft bills to be debated in the legislature.

The draft bill introduced by the cabinet granted same-sex couples all the rights available to heterosexual couples under the Civil Code, with the exception of certain adoption rights and the inability for certain transnational couples (those couples where one partner is from a country that doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage) to wed in Taiwan. 

The government used its majority in the legislature to push through their bill and with little time to spare, it was passed on May 17th, 2019 (the last possible day under the courts ruling). It was then promptly sent to President Tsai Ying-Wen who signed it and passed it into law on May 22nd.  

You might be reading this and thinking that Taiwan’s road to marriage-equality was a short one, but indeed it was more than three decades in the making. Historians often look back to 1986, when the Legislature first debated marriage-equality initiated by LGBTQ rights pioneer Chi Chia-Wei (祁家威) who filed a petition with the government to revise the law.

It would take well over 10,000 days since Chi first started his crusade, but the persistence and hard work of so many dedicated people throughout the country ensured that Taiwan’s LGBTQ community would finally have the right to marry - and on May 25th, 2019, over 526 couples did just that.

This is the short version of Taiwan’s road to marriage equality. Now if you’ll indulge me for a few moments, I’d like to talk about myself. 

I’ll surely lose my blogger membership card if I don’t talk about myself for a bit.

If you’ve been following any of my social media or know me in person, it should be fairly obvious that I’m a vocal ally, and always have been.

I don’t often talk about this stuff but while growing up I had to deal with a fair amount of bullying during my junior and high school years.

When I wasn’t getting shoved, tripped or hit, I’d often hear the words “faggot” shouted in my direction. These kinds of things generally have a damaging effect on a young person’s self-esteem but truthfully I always had a bit of a hard time understanding the point of it all.

Sure, I realized that the word “faggot” was meant to be demeaning, but what I could never understand was what was so wrong with being gay.

One of my best friends was gay - He did however do an exceptional job of keeping himself in the closet - despite his love of Celine Dion, Cher and Paula Abdul.

He was an inspirational person - He was kind to everyone, respectful, polite and good looking. He was the kind of kid that you’d bring home and your parents would automatically approve of. You were a better person by just hanging out with him.

There was absolutely nothing wrong with him. He wasn’t weird; He wasn’t different.  

This kind of put things in perspective for me - The bullying was meant to hurt, but physical violence was really the only leverage they had over me. Calling me a fag? That didn’t hurt. I’d much rather be gay than someone “cool” in the eyes of ignorant kids like that.  

Upon graduation my friend and I ended up being accepted to the same university.

This was around the same time that Canada started to take the issue of marriage-equality seriously and was also the time when my friend was finally confident enough to come out of the closet and introduced us to his first boyfriend.

As one generally does in university, I soon started attending meetings and protests and eventually became much more vocal in my support for marriage equality. I strongly felt the situation was similar to that of the Civil Rights movement in America and if I simply stood by and let my gay friends protest for their rights, then I’d be doing them a disservice. I felt it was my responsibility as an ally (and for all the other allies) to stand up and use my own voice to achieve the change that was necessary.

My involvement caused quite a few arguments with my parents who were (at the time) opposed to changes to the definition of marriage - and despite the fact that I always had I girlfriend were probably worried that I was going to come out.

During one Christmas Eve dinner we got into one of our typical political arguments while we were all sitting around the table and in frustration I angrily exclaimed that I wouldn’t marry until my friends had the same privileges that I have.

They told me I was being dramatic. It was my only leverage though. I’m the only male in my family and it would seem that ‘carrying on the name’ is my responsibility. (Children…. Eww..)

When same-sex marriage finally became the law of the land in Canada in 2005, we heard some of the typical comments that you hear when this kind of thing happens: “Its the end of society as we know it”, “I guess we’re all going to be gay now.”, “What’s next? Human’s marrying their pets?”, etc.   

It was nauseating.

But Mr. Chi is cute.

But these things have been said so many times in so many different countries and yet none of them have actually come true.

My parents, I’m sure like a lot of people at that time, started to discover that many of the people in their social circles (who had been living in the closet) were finally free to come out and get married. They suddenly realized that they had friends like I had and they started receiving invites to weddings. 

In retrospect, I’m sure they’d rather forget about their opposition to marriage equality but I’m glad to know now that they’ve come around. 

They would later sarcastically tell me that now that same-sex marriage was legal that I would have to fulfill my promise and find someone to get married to.

That scared me, so that same year I hopped on a plane and moved to Taiwan.  

When I arrived here, I assumed I didn’t really have to worry that much.

Taiwan was home to Asia’s largest Pride Parade and it seemed like LGBTQ members of society here were generally much more accepted than other places in Asia.

There were also large and very active civic groups that skillfully lobbied the government, planned protests and generally did a great job of advocating for marriage-equality. 

I wrongfully assumed participation wasn’t really as necessary as it was back home. I thought I could continue to be an ally but I wouldn’t have to be as active as I was before. I could just sit back and let the people of Taiwan do their thing.

I was wrong.

Fast forward to the referendums of 2018 when the government (ambiguously) allowed a couple of (really ignorant) questions regarding marriage-equality to be put to popular vote.

In the months leading up to the referendums I was unhappy with what was happening. Others felt optimistic - But I’ve seen how ignorance and discrimination rears its ugly head.

I’m of course a fan of democracy, but we’ve had recent experience with good people being fooled into voting against their own interests. (Cough.. Cough.. Brexit..)

I was also convinced that the rights of a minority should never be put to a popular vote - Human rights are something that need to be protected at the highest level of governance. 

While marriage equality advocates and LGBTQ groups were doing a great job mobilizing the youth vote there were also extremely well-funded religious groups spreading messages of hate, discrimination and the damnation of society if such a thing were to come to fruition in Taiwan.

Messages like this were damning, especially in what is still considered a semi-conservative traditional Confucian society.  

When the crushing results of the referendums came in, like many I was heartbroken.  

The Taiwan that I loved suddenly wasn’t the same anymore. 

Cheers! 乾杯

You should be well aware by now though that even though the results of the referendums were a set-back for marriage-equality in Taiwan, this story isn’t a sad one - It does have a happy ending. 

The reason for this, as I mentioned above is that the Council of Grand Justices gave the government a deadline of May 24th, 2019 to legalize same-sex marriage. The results of the referendums couldn’t change the constitutional decision made by the judges, so it was up to the government to come up with legislation that would allow same-sex couples to wed.  

With the May 24th deadline quickly approaching, the various political parties came up with their own plans for legalization and it became a heated issue. Fortunately, the DPP-led legislature led by President Tsai Ying-Wen bravely used their legislative majority to push through the best possible compromise to make the dream of marriage equality a reality. 

Was the final result a perfect victory?

No, not at all.

There is still a lot of work to do to realize full marriage equality rights in Taiwan, but for now, same-sex marriage is legal in Taiwan and as scheduled, on May 24th, lines started forming at Household Registration Offices around the country with the full attention of the world’s media.  

Taiwan was finally the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage.   

And to celebrate, LGBTQ groups planned a grand wedding banquet to be held on Ketagalan Road (凱達格蘭大道) in the shadow of the Presidential Palace. 

The massive wedding banquet was organized by TAPCPR (台灣伴侶權益推動聯盟), otherwise known as the “Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights” which was one of the groups at the forefront pushing for marriage equality.

Held on Ketagalan Boulevard with the Presidential Palace as the backdrop, the banquet was a basic Taiwanese “Bandoh” (辦桌) outdoor wedding banquet with over 160 tables, a full course menu and lots of entertainment - including messages of support from some of Taiwan’s top celebrities.   

If you’ve lived in Taiwan for any length of time you might think that this kind of traditional wedding banquet certainly isn’t the “fabulous” kind of same-sex marriage banquet that you’d expect. There were tables covered in plastic, traditional Taiwanese dishes, lots of local liquor, an “electric flower car” (電子花車), an MC and local entertainment.

It was something similar to what you’d see while driving through the countryside or the mountains.

It was extremely basic and I think that was the point - These people have waited all their lives for the opportunity to marry and even though they’re gay, they’re not different, they’re just like the rest of us.

The wedding banquet was everything that you’d expect from a traditional celebration in Taiwan and the media was there to show the world - and of course those in Taiwan who aren’t yet convinced - that the love and commitment these people share with each other is no different to the love that straight couples share with each other.

With 160 tables and over 1000 people formally in attendance, the atmosphere was an exciting one. People were eating good food, drinking and sharing their happiness and excitement with their families and those closest to them.

Attendance at the banquet turned out to be one of the hottest tickets in Taipei and those who couldn’t get in decided instead to take part and show their support in their own way by having picnics around the perimeter of the banquet in order to be a part of the historic evening.

Chi Chia-Wei - Taiwan’s Superman.

I wanted to be a part of that historic night, so I figured I’d have to have a picnic of my own.

Fortunately, a few days before the banquet was to be held I received an email from the editor at Goldthread in Hong Kong enquiring whether or not I was free on Saturday to take photos for them.

When I read the email, I could hardly contain my excitement.

I’d be receiving a media pass and would be able to walk around, take photos and soak up every minute of this historic evening. I’d also get to meet some of the heroes of the marriage equality movement in Taiwan.

I was paired up with talented journalist, William Yang, someone I’ve known for quite a while through social media. William has made quite a name for himself in recent years for his work as the East Asia Correspondent for Deutsche Welle News and as a contributor to several other publications.

Our mission was simple - Interview a few of the couples, take some photos of the banquet and enjoy ourselves. It was an ideal opportunity.

The article had a tight deadline though and I had to work quickly to get the photos ready to be published. 

I had lots of fun at the banquet, but once I got home and loaded the photos onto my computer I started feeling a bit stressed - I put a lot of pressure on myself to capture the magic of this historic evening and didn’t want to fail all those people who waited so long for such an opportunity.  

It was relieving to hear from both William and the editor at Goldthread that the photos were great.

Later that day when the article started picking up and was being shared all over social media I received a lot of appreciation for the photos which made me feel a bit better.   

Link: In Pictures: Taiwan’s First Mass Gay Wedding (Goldthread)

Taipei Popcorn

I’ve gone on for a bit here and as I’m not particularly known for my writing skills, I’d like to share with you some related articles that I think you should read to help you understand the situation a little more clearly. I’ll likely add a few more articles in the coming days and weeks, but for now, here are some that I think really capture the magic of the battle and the victory celebration.

Two Days of Celebrations in Taiwan With Historic First Gay Marriages in Asia (New Bloom) 

Gay Marriage Legalized in Taiwan, but Challenges Remain for Full Equality (New Bloom) 

The 30-Year Crusade behind Taiwan’s Same-Sex Marriage Law (Commonwealth)  

What’s Next for LGBTQ Rights in Taiwan? (Ketagalan Media)  

My closing thought here is something that I think will stick with me for as long as I live. I’m not the kind of person who gets all emotional at weddings, but on this occasion I couldn’t help it.

Imagine standing there with your eyes in the viewfinder of your camera looking directly at a happy couple preparing to put rings on each others fingers.

This is a couple whose love has had to endure almost indescribable pressure from a society that would prefer for them to just be “normal.” - Yet they’ve endured.

They’re a couple who for their entire lives have never imagined that it would be possible that they would be able to be standing where they are at this moment in time with the opportunity to express their love and commitment to each other and also have it recognized by law.

They’re a couple that are now recognized as equal members of society, just like you and me. But unlike most of us, they’ve had to fight for their human rights. They won’t take this victory for granted.

As I watched them with tears in their eyes sliding the rings on each others finger, hug and then share a kiss, I couldn’t help to feel emotional. This is what marriage is all about. Its about love.

And as the saying goes, 愛最大.

Congratulations Taiwan.


Tamsui Longshan Temple (淡水龍山寺)

When tourists visiting Taiwan want to experience a bit of traditional culture they almost always make their way to Taipei’s beautiful Longshan Temple. The historic temple is one of the best and most easily accessible examples of Taiwanese traditional culture, art and architecture and is always packed full of worshippers going about their daily routines.

What many fail to realize however is that Taipei’s popular Longshan Temple is only one of several temples around Taiwan (as well as China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, etc.) which share the same name.

There are currently eight temples throughout Taiwan and its outlying island territories where you can find a ‘Longshan Temple’ - Of those eight temples, five of them are historically significant in buildings which date between the 17th and 19th centuries.

For westerners, I suppose its easiest to compare how the various denominations of the Christian church have set up a network of branches all over the place.

Here in Taiwan the situation is very similar with major temples like Longshan Temple (保安宮), Qingshui Temple (清水祖師廟), Bao-An Temple (保安宮), Confucius Temple (孔廟) all having branches in several locations throughout the country.

While the majority of Taiwan’s most significant Longshan Temple’s were constructed in the 1700’s, the baby of the group, Tamsui’s Longshan Temple might not have such a storied history, nor is it as popular as its siblings but it does nonetheless have a charm of its own and should be on the list of every tourist’s itinerary if they are planning to visit Tamsui.

Before we get into the history of the Tamsui Longshan Temple though, I think I should give a brief explanation of the common features of all of these temples:

Longshan Temple (龍山寺)

The Longshan Temple’s of Taiwan have a history that is directly related to the early migration of Hokkien Chinese settlers from China’s Fujian Province (福建省).

Starting in the early 1600’s, due to the political instability of the Ming Dynasty (明朝), many people hailing from the Fujian and Guangdong areas made the decision to pack up and move across the Taiwan strait and throughout South East Asia.

Bringing their language, culture, cuisine and folk religion, the Hokkien people sought to make a go of it in what was then a very under-developed Taiwan.

The original Longshan Temple which received its name thanks to its location on Dragon Mountain (龍山) in Fujian, was constructed during the Tang Dynasty (唐朝) somewhere between 618-619.

The temple, like every other Longshan Temple that followed it is dedicated to the Buddha of Compassion whom in the Chinese Buddhist tradition takes the form of Guanyin (觀音菩薩), a female Buddha. Non-Chinese Buddhists are likely more familiar with Tibet’s Buddha of Compassion who appears in human form as the Dalai Lama.

Here in Taiwan the tradition that these temples would be dedicated primarily to Guanyin has continued but as the centuries have passed they have evolved and started to accommodate Taoist and local folk religion deities as well - many of whom also hail from the Fujian region.

Even though you can now find several deities housed within Taiwan’s various Longshan Temples, the fact remains that the majority of the religious practices that take place inside are rooted in ancient Chinese Zen Buddhist tradition.

Something that I can’t underscore enough about the religious experience in Taiwan compared to the west is that temples like Longshan Temple have the ability to house gods from what are considered to be different religions yet there are never any problems that arise from this. The religious experience in Taiwan is one of tolerance and should act as a model for those around the world who would use their religious beliefs to cause harm to others.

The Hokkien people who brought with them their cultural and religious practices constructed their first Taiwan branch of Longshan Temple in Changhua’s historic port town of Lugang in 1647 and later constructed several others.

Today there are five temples in Taiwan with histories that date between 160 - 370 years which were all constructed during the Qing dynasty.

  1. Lugang Longshan Temple (鹿港龍山寺) - 1647

  2. Tainan Longshan Temple (台南龍山寺) - 1715

  3. Monga Longshan Temple (艋舺龍山寺) - 1738

  4. Fengshan Longshan Temple (鳳山龍山寺) - 1765

  5. Tamsui Longshan Temple (淡水龍山寺) - 1858

Each of the temples differs in its design, but they all share a similar history and purpose making the Longshan Temple’s of Taiwan an important place of worship and historical value.

Tamsui Longshan Temple (淡水龍山寺)

Tamsui’s Longshan Temple was originally constructed in 1853 by residents of the Tamsui port area who had immigrated from the Quanzhou (泉州) area of Fujian.

Unfortunately after only a few short years the temple burnt to the ground.

In 1858, the current version of the temple was reopened and even though it has been repaired and renovated several times over that period of time, it still maintains its original design.

In comparison to the other Longshan Temples around Taiwan, the Tamsui version is a considerably smaller place of worship - Its beauty however lies in its design and its simplicity.

The entrance to the temple is strangely in a dark, covered traditional market that makes the temple seem somewhat mysterious from the outside. The elaborately decorated traditional stone-front temple facade even on the brightest of days is barely visible.

The entrance however opens up to a beautifully naturally lit interior that tends to transform depending on the weather. On sunny days the temple shines - on rainy days the colours of the temple are accentuated by the dull grey skies with clouds of burning incense.

Coincidentally the temple has become a popular place or photographers for this very reason. Its a very photogenic place

As is tradition, the temple was constructed sitting in the west and facing east (座西朝東) and has a simple ‘two-hall and two-passage-way’ design (兩殿兩廊式). Basically what this means is that the temple was constructed according to Feng Shui for great energy and is rectangular in shape with two different sections - a common design for temples. The entrance area forms one of the ‘halls’ (殿) with an open-air courtyard in the middle. There are two covered walkways (走廊) on either side that lead to the rear hall where the main shrine is located.

Considering its size, the temple only has one shrine room but the decorations in the interior not only show their age but the expert craftsmanship of Taiwanese temple architecture. The wood and stone work inside is beautiful, especially the large wooden plaques with calligraphy that hang from the ceiling.

The main shrine is (of course) dedicated to Guanyin (觀音菩薩), the Buddha of Compassion. But what you might find interesting is that all three of the shrines in the temple are dedicated to popular female deities from Buddhism, Taoism and Chinese folk religion.

The statue of Guanyin is a large golden one with beautifully hand-painted calligraphy in the background. To her right is a shrine to the Goddess Mazu (天上聖母), the patron-saint of Taiwan and to her left is a shrine to the Goddess of Child Birth (註生娘娘) rounding out the all-female cast of deities.

It probably goes without saying that when people pay a visit to the Child Birth Goddess they’re looking to have success in becoming pregnant or divine protection for a safe and healthy delivery.

Guanyin, the principle deity of Longshan Temple on the other hand serves a myriad of different roles - Known as the goddess of mercy, her name loosely means that she ‘hears the cries of mankind’ and seeks to help solve people’s problems. A visit to Guanyin is thus important when seeking protection for your family, health, career, etc.

Finally, Mazu, as mentioned above, serves as the patron-saint of Taiwan and especially those who work on the seas -  There are over a thousand places to workshop Mazu around Taiwan with most shrines historically constructed in port areas by fishermen who wanted to express gratitude for watching over them while out at sea.

As the patron-saint of Taiwan however Mazu has over the years transcended her traditional role as protector of the seas to the protector of the nation. People of all walks of life in Taiwan pay respects to the goddess and also request protection for theirselves and their families.

Getting There

 

Tamsui’s Longshan Temple is a short walk from the Tamsui Metro Station (淡水捷運站) and makes for a great visit if you are taking the time to visit the Danshui Old Street (淡水老街).

Somewhat hidden within a bustling traditional market, there isn’t much signage in English that will point you in the direction of the temple which means that you’ll probably want to follow Google Maps for this one.

From the Metro Station you’ll want to follow Zhongshan Road (中山路) into the downtown area of Tamsui making a right turn when you arrive at Zhongshan Road Lane 8 (中山路8巷).

From there you’ll walk up the hill for a minute or two before you turn right into a market alley on Qingshui Street (清水路) which you will walk down for a minute before turning left and seeing the main entrance to the temple.

While visiting Danshui, apart from the other obvious tourist destinations, you may also want to consider visiting the local Qingshui Temple (清水祖師廟) and the historic Fuyou Temple (福佑宮), one of Danshui’s most important and historic places of worship.  

If you are like many other tourists who make visiting Tamsui part of their Taipei itinerary you’ll definitely want to include a visit to the local temples to enjoy a bit of the storied history of the area that you will completely miss while walking down the so-called “old street”.

Tamsui played an instrumental role in the development of Northern Taiwan and you don’t have to look very far for its history. Its on display all over its streets. Try not to be like all the other tourists walking around with their giant ice-creams thinking they’ve seen the real Tamsui.

A visit to Tamsui’s Longshan Temple will be a completely different experience than what you will have at Taipei’s temple - The relative peace and quiet of the Tamsui temple allows guests to walk around and really appreciate the fine details of the beautiful artwork and architecture without a billion other people getting in the way.