ucanews.com reporter, Hong Kong
Updated: November 22, 2018 10:29 AM GMT
People take part in a rally in support of same-sex marriage in Taipei on Nov. 18, ahead of a referendum on Nov. 24. Taiwan's top court in May 2017 ruled in favor of legalizing gay marriage and said its decision must be implemented within two years. (Photo by AFP)
Catholics in Taiwan have expressed opposition to same-sex marriage as the country prepares to hold a referendum on the issue on Nov. 24.
When Taiwan's highest court ruled last year that same-sex marriage should be legal, supporters celebrated after a long battle for equality. But after conservative groups rallied against the change, the government announced a referendum.
A written record sent on Nov. 15 to ucanews.com contains the church's stance on same-sex marriage expressed by Archbishop John Hung Shan-chuan of Taipei on Nov. 6 in a closed-door conference in which the archbishop requested church members to vote in conscience.
Archbishop Hung said that Pope Francis had once said that Catholic doctrine means that gay people should not be discriminated against but must be respected.
"The pope means that we respect gay people as they are also our brothers and sisters. But the teaching of God about marriage is composed of one man and one woman and the church doesn't change this position. We do not discriminate against gays and are willing to protect their certain rights, but we cannot support same-sex marriage and same-sex union," he said.
"During the review of the Civil Code by the Legislative Yuan, I have clearly stated the attitude of the Catholic Church: the legalization of same-sex marriage and same-sex union is not in line with our teachings. The Chinese Regional Bishops' Conferences in 2016 and 2017 respectively clearly stated our opposition.
"We accept gay people but it does not mean we endorse all their actions; just as a mother accepts her child but may not agree with the child's behavior or meet all his requirements."
Msgr. Sladan Cosic, charge d'affaires of the apostolic nunciature to Taiwan, said in the same conference that the church's marriage law is composed of one man and one woman, and that same-sex marriage is not in harmony with Catholic doctrine.
He said that while the church must respect human rights, "the requirements of personal self-interest are not necessarily legal."
He warned that same-sex union or same-sex marriage would bring problems involving sexual behavior, the family, medical insurance, children and education.
Msgr. Cosic added: "The church's teachings have given us the norm, and the church expects church members to respond. I hope that church members respect the teachings of the church and show their loyalty to canon law and faithfully abide by this law."
Archbishop Hung encouraged church members to fulfill their civil rights and responsibilities and said they are "free to choose with faith and conscience."
Chi Chia-wei, a civil rights activist who was the first person in Taiwan to come out as gay on national television, has been fighting for same-sex marriage rights for more than 30 years after his request for a notarized marriage license was rejected by Taipei District Court's notary office.
On March 21, 2013, he appealed to Taipei City Government's department of civil affairs. Both Chi and the department requested a constitutional interpretation on the issue.
On May 24, 2017, the Constitutional Court ruled that the Civil Code's restriction of marriage was unconstitutional. It said same-sex couples would be allowed to marry on or before May 24, 2019.
The pros and cons of same-sex marriage have been fiercely debated in Taiwan for more than a year. The situation has led to a confusing referendum, with a total of five questions related to same-sex life — two with language in favor and three opposed.
The questions include whether same-sex marriage legislation should be included in civil law, whether gender equality should be part of the national education system, and whether civil law marriages should be limited to one man and one woman.
Daniel, a Taiwanese Catholic with legal experience, said Taiwan has some legal protections for the rights of gays.
"If same-sex couples meet the 'family status' stipulated under civil law, they can exercise the rights of their families, including family care leave and signing for surgical consent for a partner," he said.
Daniel is concerned that legislation could cause many problems including the identification of "husband," "wife," "father" and "mother" as well as same-sex couples adopting children and gay sex education applying in schools.
"Is it acceptable? It is up to people themselves to decide," he said.
The Human Life Ethics Center of Taiwan Fu Jen Faculty of Theology of St. Robert Bellarmine issued a statement on Nov. 20, stating that it disagreed with the referendum on same-sex marriage.
The implication of the referendum questions is not clear enough, the center said.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered" but adds, however, that gay persons "must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity."