Gay Marriage in Taiwan Means More than You Know

It’s all over the news – Taiwan legalized Gay Marriage. But spot the difference in the titles people use to talk about it:

Did you catch that? Which publications will use the word “Country”? – The ones that do are the ones you want reporting World Pride in NYC this year – I guarantee it.

Why? I might need to back up a bit.

Given the diligence with which American leaders are careful to give lip service to the phrase “One country, two systems,” you could be forgiven for not knowing the fraught history of the small island south of the Chinese mainland.

Let’s start there after WW2. Taiwan had been released, but not “returned” by Japan. The government of the Republic of China fortified on then Formosa with the support of American General Cooke and secret support of General MacArthur. Why? Communists were looking really scary to the US at the time and Taiwan made a really good aircraft carrier. The decision to retrocede the island after WW2 to the Kuomintang (Nationalists) in the name of “China” is not a neat one and it has been a source of conflict since. However, by international law and currently recognized treaties Taiwan is “Taiwan’s”.

During the Cold War, Taiwan would be an indispensable base of operation for the US in efforts to “contain” and guard against the “Reds.” It would also be a deeply sore spot for Beijing. It wouldn’t be until 1972 before Nixon overtly sought a relationship again with Mao. Then American diplomats were warming up to the idea of a slowly democratizing Asian giant. Deng Xiaoping let us Westerners relax content with the line that China knew how to maintain “One country, two systems during the same years The Offspring were telling us to “keep ‘em separated.”

Since then, the US has been remarkably hands-off on Taiwanese sovereignty except for perhaps recognizing a few Taiwanese Olympic teams and cryptically raising human rights and matters of national sovereignty in international forums. As China began to reveal itself as the more lucrative friend, our politicians began to speak the Lingua Franca (Of Beijing-hua) all the way up until now.

Yet during the same presidency which formally recognized Taiwan (albeit from sheer clumsiness), Taiwan now finds itself securing Gay Marriage.

Why do we care?

Consider that more than 2 million people descended on Madrid during the World Pride in 2017. Projections estimate double that in New York City for the 50th anniversary of Stonewall this year. There are queers around the world and apparently, we show up in force. If only there was some reason for our community to feel a sense of kinship towards the small island nation south of the rising authoritarian superpower forcefully oppressing the LGBT community across the water – then Taiwan might have something more than a fair-weather friend.

Now to be fair, there’s no guarantee that Taiwan’s human rights victory would translate to more aggressively defensive foreign policy protecting Taiwanese interests. Our history with Formosa has been opportunistic from the beginning. But whether waving a Taiwanese flag or a Rainbow one, the Progressive world just got a good reason to write their respective representatives (should they have any) in support of Taiwanese sovereignty.

Now we sit in the middle of a trade war with Mainland China. We squabble over potentially unsecured Huawei phones and the cost of farming. We (rightly) accuse China of stealing intellectual property and engaging in unfair monetary policies. We’ve got more hope of Trump reaching an amicable deal with Kim Jong Un than with Xi Jinping, and that’s even allowing for the possibility that he isn’t defeated in 2020 (or impeached).

Taiwan is looking like a better and better ally. Say if an administration was under pressure to appear assertive and proclaim America’s continued dominance in the Pacific ocean, it might be a really good time to start slipping the word “Country” into news headlines. Australia may want to join in on the chorus (Just saying).

To-date there are 18 countries that recognize Taiwan as a country and the USA isn’t one of them. But that doesn’t mean we don’t hold our nose when we’re forced to speak of “The Province of Taiwan” in our business dealings with Mainland China. It’s just that up until now we’ve assumed in accessing the most populous body of consumers in the world we had to swallow a little bit of our soul.

But what if that weren’t the case? What if public sentiment was shifting once more in Taiwan’s favor? What if China was nearing its first trade deficit and was about to need the good will of the world’s exports? What if a public appeared especially emboldened during what might be the largest Pride event in history to wave the Taiwanese flag? What if you were among them?

Back to New York City.

Advertisements in Times Square have become increasingly filled with Chinese characters. The Pride Parade will pass pretty damn close to the Chinese consulate in Hell’s Kitchen. The cartoon bears (Fantastica) on our movie posters next month will be Native Chinese speakers - not English. The US is no longer the only one trying to squeeze itself into a foreign society.

Moreover, there is no other American holiday during which we’re so, well, proud. There is no other time when our society so emphasizes the need to speak from the heart about the issues that affect us the most – a time for banners, sequin boogie shorts, and two lane wide floats. With all that self-expression, I sure hope there are some Taiwanese newlyweds who decided to honeymoon in the Big Apple. I hope there will be some hospitable Americans to welcome our friends from the East who will celebrate their victories for exactly what they mean.

So watch which publications and organizations use the word “country.” These publications are the ones that will tell you just how complicated it is that a gay “Chinese citizen” can get married in Taiwan, but not Beijing. Without concern for what the Chinese Ministry of Commerce might think, these media outlets describe just how much it means to see two Formosans in respective wedding dresses. The ones who understand the gravity of the “C” word ("country" of course) are also the ones who grasp the significance of words like “Freedom” or “Equality,” because they practice what they preach.

There’s plenty to celebrate but there are courageous ways to discuss them. This week, inspired by Taiwan’s victory, Hong Kong brought its first formal challenge to heterosexual only marriage in the Special Administrative Region of China. This city will fully return to Mainland China in 2047 under one country, and one system. Yet Hong Kong citizens brought the fight for gay rights to the Court of First Instance this past Tuesday. As a result gay sex is no longer a crime there as of this week (baby steps). Nevertheless mainland China just across the border proactively shuts down any LGBT event planned on WeChat (especially around Pride).

The fight for sovereignty and human rights have always gone hand in hand.

So please, celebrate Taiwan’s historic victory. It was not only the first place in Asia to do so, but it was the first country in Asia to do so according to International Law. The rainbow flag already stands for the bold, unapologetic assertion of one’s right to be. Let us expand our rainbow to include all those who fight for such a right.

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