Justice Minister under fire as top court hears gay marriage case

By Sun Hsin Hsuan, The China Post with AFP

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Justice Minister Chiu Tai-san (邱太三) drew the ire of LGBTQ activists Friday, after he described same-sex relationships as a “newly invented phenomenon” during a landmark Constitutional Court hearing on barriers to marriage equality.

Judges from the court on Friday heard arguments over whether the Civil Code’s description of marriage as between a man and a woman contravened the Constitution’s guarantee that “all citizens, irrespective of sex … shall be equal before the law.” The case challenging the Civil Code was filed by veteran gay-rights activist Chi Chia-wei (祁家威), following an attempt by Chi to marry his partner in 2013 in Taipei. Opening the hearing, Chi said he had “waited for this day for 41 years.” The activist said that since science had proved that being gay was “right” and that marriage itself was “right,” then “why can gay people not get married?” “I have only heard of two negatives make a positive, but never heard of two positives making a negative,” Chi said.

‘Social norms that are a thousand years old’ Justice Minister Chiu, however, argued that since the legal acknowledgment of same-sex relationships had only become a public issue in the 1970s, it showed it was “obviously a newly invented social need and phenomenon.”

He contrasted this with the Civil Code, enacted in 1930, which he said was based on “social norms and mechanisms formed by the people of our nation over the past thousand years.”

Chiu said if the Civil Code was found to be unconstitutional, it would be like “beheading officers of the Qing Dynasty with a sword from the Ming Dynasty.” Chiu also warned the legalization of same-sex unions would not be well received in the more conservative regions of Central and Southern Taiwan.

“What are we going to write on the ancestral tablets if same-sex marriage is legalized? ‘Kao Kao’ or ‘Bi Bi’?” — a reference to the placing of “Kao”(考) and “Bi”(妣) together on memorial stones to signify a person’s father and mother. Netizens quickly dubbed Chiu the “Minister For One Thousand Years.” Chiu’s description of Chinese history as that “of our nation,” and his linking of non-legal issues such as ancestral tablets to the Civil Code amendments was also criticized online.

President Tsai Distances Herself from Chiu Kuomintang Legislator Jason Hsu (許毓仁) said the Chiu’s remarks represented not only the justice minister’s, but also the government’s attitude toward the issue. President Tsai Ing-wen’s administration moved quickly to distance themselves from the controversial comments made by the Justice Minister. Premier Lin Chuan said Chiu was only a representative of the Ministry of Justice and not Executive Yuan. Presidential Office (PO) Spokesman Alex Huang (黃重諺) said Friday that the PO “fully respects” Chiu’s remarks, but clarified that the justice minister was “speaking on behalf of the Civil Code’s competent authority.” Huang added that Chiu’s speech would not have an impact on plans by Vice President Chen Chien-jen(陳建仁) to set up talks between supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage.