Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Ministry rules in favor of transgender couple, marriage is legal

Today’s decision reaffirms the distinctiveness of Taiwan as a progressive society and an example for the world

Amid all the scandals, resignations, explosions and protests that have shaken Taiwan’s political scene in recent days, there was one piece of good news in the afternoon when the Ministry of the Interior (MOI) upheld the legality of a marriage between two transgender individuals, ending months of legal battle and the very real risk that the couple would see their union annulled.

Thing were rather unpromising initially, when a small rally outside the MOI was informed that the couple — Abbygail Wu (吳伊婷), 27, and her partner, Jiyi Ng (吳芷儀), 29 — could not attend a meeting of experts inside where their case was being reviewed. The reason given was that there were not enough seats.

Supporters gather in front of the MOI
As tensions rose, a police officer was sent inside the MOI to find out whether something could be done to allow the couple to attend the meeting. The officer came back with the bad news: only their lawyer could go. This went on for a while, and as expected, things got a bit rough. Amid the pushing and shoving, I could not help but think how easily the situation could have been resolved. Surely, some compromise could have been worked out to allow the couple to attend. They are transgender individuals, not contagious zombies who will infect government officials if they happen to be in the same air-conditioned room. Instead, officials treated them, and the dozens of activists who had gathered to support them, with contempt. People could have been injured in the melee, which was absolutely unnecessary and avoidable.

Several minutes later, after the situation had calmed down, the gates were open, and the couple, escorted by police officers, were allowed in. People cheered them on and dispersed. (We later learned that they were allowed to make a quick speech before being forced to leave the room.)

The couple's legal adviser
Let’s step back a little. As I wrote in an article last month, prior to getting married in October 2012, Abbygail and Jiyi had obtained the necessary papers by registering with government authorities to obtain their marriage certificate. In their application, Jiyi applied as the “husband,” while Abbygail did so as the “wife.”

Two months earlier, Wu and Ng had undergone sex changes, also known as “gender reassignment surgery,” to transform them from men into women. However, when earlier this year Jiyi Wu applied for legal status as a woman, the Taipei City Household Registration Office noticed some “irregularities” and turned to the city’s Department of Civil Affairs, which in turn requested input from the ministry. In the end, the ministry revoked the marriage certificate and stated that marriage can only occur between a man and a woman.

An intervention by Democratic Progressive Party legislators compelled the government to hold today’s review.

Things did get a bit rough
At about 6pm, the ministry announced that it would uphold the validity of their marriage, a decision that creates a precedent in Taiwan — if not in East Asia — and perhaps even opens the door for other future positive decisions on same-sex marriage. The ministry said that a marriage is valid as long as the gender of the individuals involved is that of a man and a woman at the time of registration (in other words, what people do with or to their gender after they are married is their own business).

This is a small step, but today once again confirms that in the realm of ideas and social progressiveness, Taiwan is light years ahead of China and other countries in the region. With such decisions, it reaffirms its distinctiveness as a nation.

Congratulations to Abbygail and Jiyi, and to those who were involved in today’s decision! (All photos by the author)

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