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Taiwan celebrates Asia's first same-sex marriages as couples tie knot

More than 360 same-sex couples married on Friday, according to government data, after years of heated debate over marriage equality that has divided the self-ruled and democratic island.

Taiwan celebrates Asia's first same-sex marriages as couples tie knot
File Photo

Same-sex couples tied the knot in emotional scenes in Taiwan on Friday, the first legal marriages in Asia hailed by activists as a social revolution for the region.

Taiwan`s parliament passed a bill last week that endorsed same-sex marriage, although the measure could complicate President Tsai Ing-wen`s bid for re-election next year.

More than 360 same-sex couples married on Friday, according to government data, after years of heated debate over marriage equality that has divided the self-ruled and democratic island.

Twenty couples queued at a marriage registration office in downtown Taipei, where rainbow flags were on display alongside stacks of government-issued, rainbow-themed registration forms. 

"I feel very lucky that I can say this out loud to everyone: I am gay and I am getting married," said Shane Lin, a 31-year-old baker who with his partner were the first couple to register in the Taipei office.

"I am extremely proud of my country Taiwan," said a tearful Lin.

The euphoria and emotion within the island`s gay community were on display as newly-wed couples walked down a rainbow-coloured carpet in a nearby park, watched by families and friends as well as diplomats and reporters.

RIPPLE EFFECT

Chi Chia-wei, an activist who brought a case to Taiwan`s constitutional court that led to a landmark court ruling on same-sex marriage in 2017, congratulated the couples. 

"This is the right that we deserved from a long time ago," he said, draped in a giant rainbow flag that symbolises the colours of the international gay movement. 

"As a beacon in Asia, I hope Taiwan`s democracy and human rights could have a ripple effect on other countries in Asia," he added. 

Supporters also celebrated on social media, sharing posts with rainbow colours. 

Friday`s celebration followed a years-long tussle over marriage equality that culminated in the 2017 declaration by the constitutional court giving same-sex couples the right to marry, and setting a deadline of May 24 for legislation.

Marriage equality was backed by the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), but the measure could complicate President Tsai`s bid for a second term in elections next year.

Conservative groups that oppose same-sex marriage said the legislation disrespected the people`s will.

America`s de facto embassy in Taiwan called the island`s quest for equality "an inspiring journey and an example for the entire world."

"Only in a democracy such as Taiwan`s can human rights and civil rights be protected and nurtured," the American Institute in Taiwan wrote on its Facebook page.

Same-sex marriage is not recognised by Hong Kong and neighbouring China, which regards Taiwan as a wayward province to be returned to the fold by force, if necessary. 

It marks another milestone in Taiwan`s development as one of the region`s more liberal societies, in contrast with China`s strongly autocratic government.

Across the strait, many Chinese congratulated Taiwan`s newlywed same-sex couples on platforms such as Weibo, China`s version of Twitter. 

"For once I thought the legalization of same-sex marriage in Taiwan would impact on the Chinese government, making them heed our appeals," one Weibo user said.

"But then I found the shock actually makes the government more scared, stepping up their crackdown on us."