Saturday, January 04, 2014

Same-sex marriage in Taiwan: A case for progress, modernity, and putting Taiwan on the map (中文 link at bottom)

Opponents of same-sex marriage simply don’t have a case. Share a panel with one of the leaders of the movement, and you’ll see why

As one of the very few journalists in the English language to have paid attention to the issue of same-sex marriage in Taiwan, I guess it was only natural that I be invited to be part of a panel on the issue, which National Taiwan Normal University held on Jan. 3.

I could hardly contain my surprise (and admittedly, excitement) when, upon receiving the agenda, I realized that I would be sharing the panel with Chang Chuan-fong (張全鋒), the spokesperson for the Taiwan Interreligious Coalition for Cherishing Family — and by family they mean strictly heterosexual families. Sean Pan (潘柏翰) of National Taiwan University and I were invited to make the case in favor of same-sex marriage; Chang, with a presentation titled “The Reasons We Oppose Legalizing [a] Same-Sex Marriage Act in Taiwan,” was evidently against, while Aline Tayar, a conference interpreter in the EU, made the not invalid argument against the validity of marriage as an institution (confession: This writer is getting married in 20 days).

Needless to say, Chang, who is associated with the Unification Church — or the “Moonies,” as they are better known in the West — did not disappoint, if by that you mean the repetition of the same old platitudes as to why legalizing same-sex unions would be catastrophic for society. In case you’re unsure as to the Unification Church’s position on homosexuality, here is a quote from their Web site: “Satan is destroying the families of the world. He is using strategies such as homosexuality, free sex and the destruction of morality to ruin peoples’ lives.” Or the Rev. Moon himself, who founded the Church, describing homosexuals as “dirty dung-eating dogs” and “There will be a purge on God’s orders, and evil will be eliminated like shadows. Gays will be eliminated.” (The Unification Church has since claimed that Moon’s speeches were in Korean and therefore we cannot know the true meaning of his sayings. Luckily for us, other like-minded fanatical Christian organizations, like the International House of Prayer (IHOP), are less circumspect and their leaders are English-speaking Americans.)

Chang’s presentation was a rehashing of the old claims that we’ve heard far too often since the campaign against amendments to Article 972 was initiated: The spread of AIDS; the slippery slope leading to bestiality, incest and promiscuity; the destruction of moral values; infidelity (as if only homosexuals were fooling around); the “rights” of children; “absolute sex” versus “free sex” and so on. (Though he didn’t bother to define the term, we can only conclude that “absolute sex” involves the missionary position between a man and a woman, and never before 7pm!) At one point Chang prophesized that even though we don’t see the ills today, same-sex marriage would destroy Taiwan, much as the accumulation of various deficiencies ultimately destroyed the Soviet Union. How equal rights for all equates with bad economic policies, foreign wars and the corrosive effects of Totalitarianism he obviously would not explain.

A participant at LGBT Pride 2013
To seal his case, Chang also presented a video showing a very narrow selection from the latest LGBT Pride Parade, with scantily clad men and women dancing and clubbing. According to him, allowing same-sex marriage would lead to a society where such public (I almost wrote pubic) displays would become routine. Having observed the last two LGBT parades in Taipei, I can confirm that some people do dress up for the event, but they are (a) not the majority (b) they are making a point and (c) for the other 364 days of the year, they dress just like you and me and Mr. Chang. (In fact, during the parade, I ran into a man in drag who, as it turns out, I had been buying CDs from at Eslite for several years. It took me a while to recognize him, and I can assure you that when I buy my music from him at the store, he is wearing ordinary clothes and not showing any more skin than the other employees.) I was tempted to ask him if he’d ever been to a funeral in Taiwan, where it is the custom for scantily clad women to pole dance for the dead. Oh, and apparently (According to Chang) the parade also promoted the use of recreational drugs, which is, again, complete lies.

Chang also claimed that the many heterosexuals who support homosexual unions are doing so not because they care about justice, human rights and equality, but for more selfish reasons. People like me apparently side with homosexuals because we want “sexual liberation” and “free sex,” which is something that we allegedly crave and from which we would somehow benefit. In other words, homosexuals are mere means to an end, tools selfishly used to achieve something else.

Then came the perpetrator as victim, with Chang arguing that the Christians are being discriminated against because of efforts to pass anti-discrimination laws against gays. In other words, denying them the right to discriminate is … discrimination! (Poor things. They would no longer be able to spew lies about homosexuals without the risk of facing lawsuits.) Moreover, Chang said that unlike countries in the West, Taiwan doesn’t need laws to regulate such issues. God’s laws are sufficient. So there we have it, Chang flashing his Dominionism colors (look up the term, it’s truly scary stuff).

Our Moonist friend also argued that many people who oppose same-sex marriage — especially those who had not expressed an opinion when polled — were afraid to do so publicly for fear that they would be repressed, as if homosexuals and their supporters were the ones who were trying to deny them rights that they already enjoy.

The interesting thing about Chang and many other religious leaders who oppose same-sex marriage was his evident discomfort with all things of the flesh. He himself didn’t look at ease within his body, and his voice lowered to a mere mumble whenever he discussed sexual acts. We could barely hear him when he briefly touched on BDSM and other unorthodox forms of sexuality (oh, how thin the skin around the anus is!), which obviously are all bad, dangerous, and ultimately immoral. This unease with all things sexual is such a common phenomenon among homophobes and opponents of homosexual marriage that there must be something to it.

Of course, there was exactly nothing we could do to change his views. He had religious “truth” and a whole encyclopedia of unprovables on his side, and all he did when challenged as to repeat his bigoted claims like a broken record. (Perhaps if one repeats a lie often enough it can become the truth…) Given the composition of the people in attendance (the conference room was packed), I can’t imagine Mr. Chang succeeding in bringing anyone on his side, and on several occasions when he launched one of his diatribes, I saw people suppressing laughter, rolling their eyes or shaking their heads in disbelief. I had to behave, as I was on the panel and was seated next to him. But my eyes did roll on a few occasions. It did feel like I had traveled back in time and was finding myself in the Dark Ages.

The more they leave the insularity of their churches and show their colors to the world out there, the worst off they are, and the closer we get to finally seeing legalized same-sex unions in Taiwan and elsewhere.

* * *

Having dispensed with Mr. Chang, here is what I said during the 20 minutes allowed me, in a speech titled “Same-Sex Marriage in Taiwan: A Case for Progress, Modernity, and Putting Taiwan on the Map.”

Despite the claims by opponents of same-sex unions, homosexuality is not a disease, nor is it a choice or something that it “acquired” through environmental exposure. The keys to its existence are grounded in biology. Here’s a personal example: My mother grew up in St. Ludger, a very Catholic village south of Quebec City (most of the neighboring villages were also named after saints) in the years following the Duplessis regime, which had imposed a rigid Roman Catholic system on all aspects of society. From a very early age (she is on her sixties), the world told her that homosexuality was “bad,” “immoral,” a disease. As far as I know, she did not grow up alongside homosexuals, or if she did, nobody had dared to “come out.”

How, then, could she had “caught” or “learned” homosexuality, which is something that is often claimed by homophobes? And how did she know, from a very young age, that she liked girls? Why is it that 16 years of heterosexual marriage to a wonderful man (my father), a lifetime of religious conviction and a B.A. in theology didn’t “heal” her, or change who/what she was? The answer is biology. Homosexuality is a naturally occurring phenomenon, and we are, whether we like it or not, the product of nature and evolution. We do not stand outside of it, which is another claim that is often made by the Church, especially among creationists and proponents of “intelligent design.”

There is not a shred of evidence to prove all the ills that would purportedly befall Taiwan should it adopt same-sex legislation (AIDS and other STDs, promiscuity, bestiality, incest, social confusion, &c). Unless, of course, the belief is akin to that of the American Reverend Michael Bray, who claims — and I quote from Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion (p. 270) — that “innocent citizens are at risk of becoming collateral damage when God chooses to strike a town with a natural disaster because it houses sinners.”

The only instability that emerges from the question of same-sex unions comes from those who oppose it — hate campaigns, such as in Russia or Uganda, lies, religious extremism, and so on; or who react negatively when confronted to its reality (hatred, blackmail, family divisions, &c).

Someone could counter my claims with the “What if” argument: “What if same-sex marriage had already been legal during your parents’ generation? Your mother would have married another woman and so would your father. As a result, you would not have been born.” Indeed. Although I like to think that I am unique and that, as a journalist, I am making positive contributions to society, there is nothing irreplaceable or teleological about me. The child that would have issued from my father’s union with another woman could later have discovered the cure for cancer. (Conversely, he could have been the next Hitler, which some members of the anti-same-sex-unions alliance don’t seem to have much of a problem with.)

Your mother, having formed a union with another woman, could not have had a child. Wrong. Surrogacy, IVF, and adoption are options. And on the last option, adoption by same-sex parents is evidently preferable to traditional families in which children are abused, or to children growing up in orphanages. I don’t for a second buy the argument that children growing up in a homosexual household will be confused about who and what they are.

The argument advanced by opponents of same-sex marriage is purely along the lines of morality (“true love” versus “incomplete love”), which must — and cannot — be proven. It is also predicated on biblical dictates and the belief that one can only learn good morals from the Bible. What, then, of the billions of people who do not subscribe to Christianity? Are they all immoral, or amoral? Of course not, and there is ample evidence showing that morality develops independently of sacred texts, oftentimes despite religion.

The argument goes as follows: Same-sex marriage is immoral because the Bible says that it is; legalizing it through man-made laws would kill morality and lead to an epidemic of homosexuality and ultimately chaos. Following that logic, a country that legalizes murder would soon descend into an orgy of massacres. Why that isn’t the case is because we have an innate sense of morality. We know that murder is wrong, and don’t need a law (man-made or divine) to tell us that. The same applies to homosexuality. Legalizing it will not increase homosexuality, because heterosexuals know they are heterosexuals and have no inclination towards homosexuality.

Legalizing same-sex unions contributes to social stability by creating incentives for stable relationships.

The “low birthrate” argument: Taiwan already has the lowest birthrate on the face of the planet. Legalizing same-sex marriages would exacerbate the problem. This is false logic. Whether same-sex unions are allowed or not, homosexual couples will continue to exist and will not — cases of IVF and surrogacy excepted — produce children of their own, nor will heterosexual Taiwanese couples produce more or less children than they do now. However, legalizing same-sex unions would foster the stability that is required to ensure successful adoptions and upbringing. 

Canada began legalizing same-sex marriages a decade ago. There is no empirical evidence whatsoever to prove that legalization has undermined social stability. Canada was, and remains, one of the most stable countries politically and socially on the planet.

Taiwan can show leadership by becoming the first country in East Asia to legalize same-sex unions. This would send a very powerful message to international society that it is not China. Taiwanese society at large either supports same-sex unions (about 53%) or is indifferent (15-20%), meaning that there is no fundamental opposition.

As I have demonstrated in a series of articles published in the past month, opposition and mobilization to same-sex marriage has been overwhelmingly Christian-led, with strong leverage in government, and uses rhetoric that is imported from outside. I have yet to encounter a single indigenous rationale for opposing same-sex marriage in Taiwan. (Ironically, opponents claim that the very notion of gay unions is an import from the West.)

This is not just a matter of human rights; this is also an issue of reason, logic and the enlightenment versus obscurantism. Normalizing homosexuality and promoting equality would teach children the values of acceptance and tolerance, perhaps the single most important tool for progress as a society and something that religious groups, that people like Mr. Chang, should be promoting rather than stamp upon. (Photos by the author)

NEW! A Chinese version of this article is available here.

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