Handle Taiwan Gay Marriage Story With Care, Chinese Media Warned

China's state propaganda machine has warned the country's media not to "make a big deal" of a ruling by Taiwan's constitutional court on effectively legalizing same-sex marriages.

Conservative activists protest Taiwan court's ruling legalizing same-sex marriages, May 24, 2017.

China's state propaganda machine has warned the country's media not to "make a big deal" of a ruling by Taiwan's constitutional court on effectively legalizing same-sex marriages.

"News items dealing with the legalization of same-sex marriage in the Taiwan area are politically and socially sensitive," a propaganda directive leaked online and posted by the U.S.-based China Digital Times website ordered editorial staff.

"Do not make a big deal out of this story," it said, ordering news outlets to put quotation marks around the names of the self-governing island's institutions, lest they give the impression that the ruling Chinese Communist Party is extending official recognition.

Words like "constitution," "Judicial Yuan," "legislate" and "president" must be placed in quotation marks.

"On no account is Taiwan to be treated [in copy] as a separate political entity from mainland China," it said.

Supporters of gay rights are celebrating in democratic Taiwan after the island's highest court made a constitutional ruling in favor of same-sex marriages, the first jurisdiction in Asia to legalize gay marriage.

The island's constitutional court ruled that the physical and psychological need for permanent unions is "equally essential to homosexuals and heterosexuals, given the importance of the freedom of marriage to the sound development of personality and safeguarding of human dignity."

It said foot-dragging over the issue had affected people's fundamental rights in recent years.

The island's government now has two years to implement the ruling by the constitutional court, but the ruling already legitimizes same-sex marriages by default, it said.

Across the Taiwan Strait in mainland China, social media comments appeared to welcome the news.

“I hope this passes. This will have a huge impact on mainland China. Next stop, Hong Kong, then mainland proper," Sina Weibo user @RS-CH wrote, while @aiqiyidaxueshenglaile wrote: "Everybody deserves love."

"Can't wait for this to pass," added @YxianshengyuYxiansheng, while another commented: "Way to go! This will definitely pass."

But the government of Hong Kong, which has been under the aegis of the ruling Chinese Communist Party since 1997, filed an appeal on Thursday against a ruling by the city's High Court ordering it to provide spousal benefits to civil servants who have same-sex marriages abroad.

The court found that a male immigration officer had been discriminated against when his husband, whom he married in a legal ceremony in New Zealand in 2014, was refused benefits provided to married civil servants, such as medical and dental care.

The government had argued that recognition of spousal benefits for legally married same-sex couples went against the concept of marriage "as understood in Hong Kong," government broadcaster RTHK reported.

Referendum

In Taiwan, anti-gay marriage groups said they would campaign for a referendum on the issue.

"We think that the right of the people to a public debate on the issue has been taken away from them," campaigner Tseng Hsien-ying said. "There is therefore not a moment to lose: we must begin our campaign for a referendum immediately."

Tseng had earlier described the constitutional court's ruling as "a shameful entry in the pages of history."

And lawmaker Liao Kuo-tung of the former ruling Kuomintang (KMT) nationalist party hit out at Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) president Tsai Ing-wen, saying the DPP cannot be allowed to have the last word on the matter.

"We take exception to the president's actions in this matter," Liao said after Tsai ordered the island's democratically-elected Legislative Yuan to implement the court's ruling as soon as possible.

"She should take a step backwards ... everything up until now on this topic has been the decision of the DPP," he said.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) welcomed Taiwan's landmark ruling in a statement on its website on Thursday, urging other governments in the region to follow suit.

"Other countries in the region should take their cue from Taiwan and join this global movement for non-discrimination and equal rights for all," it said.

"The landmark decision ... is not only a victory for supporters of marriage equality in Taiwan, but also a significant development in Asia, where no country has yet allowed same-sex marriage," the group said.

"This ruling is a milestone on the road to equality for LGBT people in Taiwan, who face social and cultural stigma and discrimination," it said, citing strong legal and social impediments to equality elsewhere in the region.

The Supreme Court of Singapore rejected a challenge to the colonial-era sodomy law in 2014, while the LGBT community in Indonesia has faced a barrage of homophobic rhetoric, a wave of arrests, and the recent public caning of two gay men in Aceh, HRW said.

Reported by Hwang Chun-mei for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Chung Kuang-cheng for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.