Taiwan’s move to legalize gay marriage a global victory: Canadian envoy

TAIPEI (CNA) – Taiwan’s decision to soon legalize same-sex marriage is a win for the people of the world, a Canadian diplomat and advocate of LGBTI rights told CNA earlier this week.

Michael McCulloch, Director of General Relations at the Canadian Trade Office in Taipei (CTOT), the de facto Canadian embassy in Taiwan, said Taiwan’s decision made him feel “very hopeful as a person.” “The reason why it does, is human rights is not guaranteed anywhere in the world,” he said when asked to comment on the Cabinet’s decision last month to draft a special bill to legalize same-sex marriage, which is now before the Legislature and expected to be enacted by May 24.

“It’s like a win for the people of the world,” said McCulloch, one of Canada’s staunchest advocates of LGBTI rights and a former professor of international human rights law.

He said that from 2003 to 2005, Canada went through the same phase that Taiwan is in at the moment.

Same-sex marriage was introduced in several Canadian provinces through court decisions, starting in 2003, before being legalized nationwide with the enactment of the Civil Marriage Act on July 20, 2005. With that decision, Canada became the first non-European to legalize same-sex marriage.

Before the enactment of that law, however, many Canadians were not supportive of the rights of LGBTI people, but that changed over time and now the vast majority of Canadians are in favor of marriage equality, McCulloch said.

He said he does not share the concerns expressed by some conservative groups that legalizing same-sex marriage would fundamentally change Taiwan society.

“I don’t think it’s going to change your society,” he said. “It’s not going to change your institutions; it’s not going to change your traditions. What it is going to do is make all of those things more inclusive for everyone.” Canadians today are still the same people they were before the enactment of the Civil Marriage Act, McCulloch said.

“Our families are still loving, warm and welcoming,” he said. “It’s just that now more people have the right to love whom they want.” The Canadian diplomat said one of the reasons he chose his posting in Taiwan was because he was proud to see democracy in action in Taiwan.

His first visit to Taiwan was in March 2014, during the Sunflower Movement, when students led a 24-day occupation of the Legislature in protest against a lack of transparency in a trade-in-services agreement between Taiwan and China, McCulloch said.

The envoy said he was in Taiwan for a human rights workshop and was deeply impressed with the young democracy.

As a professor of international human rights law, he said, he found Taiwan a “remarkable” place, where democracy was on the rise even as it was in decline in several places around the world.

Taiwan is a symbol of hope with a “refreshing” democracy, McCulloch said.

Music diplomacy outside his profession, McCulloch is an accomplished musician and singer who has written hundreds of songs and had a band in Canada that did house concerts.

“I loved it because as a songwriter, I liked the intimate contact with people, being able to move people in a setting where they were simply listening and enjoying it (music),” he said.

He said his music and songwriting also fit into his career as a diplomat. “As diplomats, part of our work is about sharing stories, and music is about telling stories,” McCulloch said. “As musicians, we tell stories about where we are from, the people we know, our lives.” For instance, he said, he once wrote a song called “A Rainbow of Colors,” which was inspired by a transgender woman’s address at the United Nations in 2010, when he was serving as one of Canada’s leading human rights negotiators at the U.N.

In her address, the first by an openly transgender person to the U.N. general assembly, the woman spoke about the violence and discrimination that she was facing in her life, McCulloch said.

After McCulloch arrived in Taiwan 18 months ago to take up his post at Canadian office, he began writing a song called “Sunrise over Yangmingshan,” which he said encompasses his experience of trekking over the mountain in Taipei.

McCulloch said it is one of about a dozen songs that he plans to finish writing in roughly a month’s time and hopes to perform at a summer concert.

The new collection will be called “Made in Taiwan” in tribute to the place he loves so well, McCulloch said.

By Joseph Yeh