TAIPEI: Taiwan will decide whether to pass Asia's first gay marriage law on Friday (May 17) as conservative lawmakers launch a last-ditch attempt to scupper the bill despite a court ruling ordering same-sex marital equality.
Protesters on both sides of the debate will gather outside Taipei's parliament for what looks set to be a mammoth legislative debate over an issue that has bitterly divided the island.
Parliament is up against a ticking clock.
Taiwan's top court has ruled that not allowing same-sex couples to marry violates the constitution. Judges gave the government two years to make necessary changes by May 24, 2019 or see marriage equality enacted automatically.
With that deadline fast approaching, three bills have been tabled for Friday - which also happens to be the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.
The most progressive is the government's bill, the only one to use the word "marriage" and offer limited adoption rights.
It is backed - begrudgingly - by gay rights groups who see it as the closest thing to full equality with heterosexual couples, despite its limitations.
Opponents have tabled two other versions which avoid the word marriage, offering something closer to same-sex unions with no adoption rights.
Conservative and religious groups have been buoyed by a series of referendum wins in November, in which voters comprehensively rejected defining marriage as anything other than a union between a man and a woman.
President Tsai Ing-wen has said the government's bill respects both the court judgement and the referendum.
"I hope everybody can be considerate and tolerate different opinions to show Taiwan is a mature civil society that is capable of handling a divisive issue," she said on Tuesday.
Tsai's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) holds the majority in parliament, occupying 68 out of 113 seats.
But there is no guarantee her own lawmakers will vote for the more progressive bill, especially as many fear being punished by conservative voters at the ballot box in January.
One of the rival bills was proposed by a DPP lawmaker.
Taiwan's LGBT community has been left in limbo the last two years, with many couples planning weddings ahead of the May 24 deadline but unsure of what marriage equality will look like.
"We will have a clear answer this week about how this country will treat gay couples in the future," said Jennifer Lu, a spokeswoman for Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan.
"The cabinet's bill is already a discounted version but it covers the most for now. The other bills are not only unconstitutional but discriminatory."
Opponents warn that "forcefully" passing a gay marriage law will intensify tensions.
"The cabinet's bill ignores the referendum results and that is unacceptable," said Lai Shyh-bao of the opposition Kuomintang party, who proposed one of the bills backed by conservatives.
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