May 29, 2017
The decision of Taiwan’s constitutional court last week, invalidating a civil code provision prohibiting same-sex marriage, will have profound implications. Domestically, it will spur the executive and legislative branches to break the political stalemate over the legislative action necessary to amend the code, so as to conform to the constitution’s guarantee of social equality for all. They must now fulfil this constitutional responsibility within two years.
The constitutional court has taken similar actions in other controversial situations in recent decades. For example, its decisions played a critical role in ending the power that Taiwan’s police long exercised outside the regular judicial system, to imprison anyone they chose to declare a “hooligan”. The court also required that the government end an abuse similar to the notorious “re-education through labour” recently abolished, at least in form, in mainland China.
The much more controversial same-sex decision reminds me of the landmark US Supreme Court Brown vs Board of Education ruling, which in 1954 led a divided America away from segregated schools and other previously legal segregation practices. Although Brown, like last week’s Taiwan case, generated a major backlash from many conservative groups, it proved a major step toward social progress.
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