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Taiwan same-sex union points to Asia shift on gay rights


Taiwanese women Fish Huang (R) and her partner You Ya-ting pose for a photo during their same-sex Buddhist wedding ceremony in Taoyuan on August 11, 2012. The two women tied the knot on August 11 in Taiwan’s first same-sex Buddhist wedding, a move rights groups hope will help make the island the first society in Asia to legalize gay marriage. AFP / SAM YEH

Taipei – A Buddhist cleric’s decision to wed two women in Taiwan is the latest sign that obstacles to same-sex unions are quietly coming down in Asia, with religion posing less of a hindrance than in the West.

Fish Huang and her partner You Ya-ting, both 30, received their blessings from Shih Chao-hui, a female Buddhist master, at a monastery in north Taiwan’s Taoyuan county over the weekend – and no one seemed to raise an eyebrow.

“I think this is their human right. They can choose freely to get married and we should respect them,” said Chih Chun, a Buddhist nun who attended the ceremony.

“It makes no difference if couples are heterosexual or homosexual, as long as they are in love and they are happy.”

The wedding – a first for Taiwanese Buddhism – comes as evidence is mounting that Asians and their governments are quietly revising their views on same-sex marriage even as the subject remains a highly charged issue in the United States this election year.

Communist Vietnam is considering making the practice legal and in Nepal hundreds marched in support of enshrining it in the new constitution. Tokyo Disneyland has allowed gay couples to informally tie the knot on its grounds.

Myanmar and Laos also recently held their first gay pride events.

According to Shih, the cleric who presided over the ceremony in Taiwan, this is a trend facilitated regionwide by a lack of religious and philosophical dogma against homosexuality.

“Buddhism does not dismiss homosexuality from an ideological point of view, and in Confucianism it’s a grey area, so eastern societies tend to be more open-minded towards homosexuality,” she said.

Even so, the move towards greater tolerance does not apply universally to Asia, as countries where Islam is the dominant religion maintain tough laws against homosexuals.

In Malaysia, for example, they can be sentenced to up to 20 years in jail, while in Indonesia they risk caning of up to 100 lashes.

And even in Asia’s most culturally liberal societies, homosexuals are unlikely to see full equality before the law anytime soon.

Taiwan is a case in point – despite happenings such as this weekend’s wedding and hosting Asia’s biggest gay pride parade.

While it is nine years since the island’s cabinet drafted a bill to legalise same-sex marriage, President Ma Ying-jeou has said public consensus is needed before the government can move ahead with the law.

But the key point in non-Muslim Asian societies, according to observers, is that opposition is less grounded in organised religion, and more in ingrained family values.

“It’s not about religious belief,” said Vietnamese sociologist Le Quang Binh, director of the Institute for Studies of Society, Economy and Environment in Hanoi.

“People who oppose same-sex marriage are often worried that new family forms will destroy the traditional family.”

Religions, and especially Buddhism, cover such a broad spectrum of views on gay rights that it is neither a factor for or against liberalisation.

What Buddhism does facilitate is a debate among its adherents of the issue without dismissing it out of hand on orthodox grounds.

“In general, Buddhist leaders are socially conservative, but Buddhist lay people can be very different from them,” said Andre Laliberte, a social scientist at the University of Ottawa who has written a book on Buddhism in Taiwan.

Shih, the Buddhist master who wed the Taiwanese couple, “is not representative at all of the leadership of Buddhists in Taiwan, but many younger, more educated lay Buddhists recognise themselves in her”, he said.

While the Old Testament apparently condemns homosexuality, there are no similar passages in the Buddhist classics.

The lack of any absolute authority commanding the loyalty of all Buddhists is key, according to Hillary Crane, an anthropologist specialising in Taiwanese Buddhism at Oregon’s Linfield College.

“The idea that there is not one truth is really fundamental to Buddhism, and the idea that there is one truth is really fundamental to Christianity,” she said.

“Also in Catholicism you’re supposed to defer to the Vatican and what they say, and there is no such central authority in Buddhism.”

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  • just_anotherperson

    Catholics defer to the Vatican because the Pope preserves the teachings of Jesus Christ.  Without the teachings of Jesus Christ, infanticide, slavery, human sacrifice, homosexuality, same sex marriage, polygamy, euthanasia and many other social ills would be permissible.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/DX2XYKELFJAAYO2EITVMMCP6NY Isabel

      i hope you were being sarcastic.

      infanticide and abortion: Numbers 31:17 (Moses) “Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every women that hath known man by lying with him.” 

      polygamy: Sarai Abram’s wife bare him no children: and she had an handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar. And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the LORD hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai. And Sarai … gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife. And he went in unto Hagar, and she conceived. Genesis 16:1

      human sacrifice: “Take your son, your only son – yes, Isaac, whom you love so much – and go to the land of Moriah.  Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will point out to you.”  Genesis 22:2

      slavery: However, you may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you.  You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have been born in your land.  You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance.  You may treat your slaves like this, but the people of Israel, your relatives, must never be treated this way.  (Leviticus 25:44-46 NLT) 

      • just_anotherperson

        Are we Jews or Christians? Do we live in a tribal or an industrialized society?

        Did God command the Israelites to kill righteous people? Did God allow Israelites to make slaves of fellow Israelites? Did he not allow only to buy only those who are already slaves, to treat them the same as the hired laborer and to set them free at the prescribed time?

        Read the bible in its entirety. Do not take specific verses to suit your arguments.

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/DX2XYKELFJAAYO2EITVMMCP6NY Isabel

        Read the bible in its entirety. Do not take specific verses to suit your arguments.
        Oh the irony.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_3QBMYPCCPWL5IDWF55BTBVWSAE UPLB-2008-3****

        What if I told you, the Bible is disputable at best?

  • kilabot

    same-sex marriage, man-beast union, sodomy, lgbt, bed-hopping, partner-swapping, abortion… if this is not the dark ages then it must be the days of sodom redone.

    • efriend

      That is the favorite tactic of fundamentalists: sow FEAR!  Who knows if Sodom and Gomorrah really existed?

      I do not believe that it is any man’s (or woman’s) place or right to judge others. That right belongs only to each individual’s own higher power, whoever or whatever that might be.

      • nakatutok

        kapitanobyus,kumusta?? hindi ko alam na “DEFENDER”ka din pala ng GAY rights?? si Sam Duel ka din ba?? o si Fester???si farmerson nga pala kailan mo gagamitin???

    • Guest

      Man-beast union? Somebody does not understand the concept of consent.

  • marionics

    wow this is sooooooo hooooot!!! puede ba maki threesome?? he he

  • nakatutok

    matagal nang pinaglalaban ni Sam Duel ito…..at ni Fester…..

  • Bayanpanona

    Religions, belief to higher power.. These things have nothing to do with these.. We are human beings.. We act according to our rationality and what is conventional.. Men are made for women.. That’s it! And these things are just unacceptable.. Aliens do roam on earth!

  • stelvio

     To love is the greatest commandment in the bible.  All the laws created by god since the beginning all points to the word “Love”.  If you do something out of true love for another then it is permissible.  The person who has loved has more chances of going to heaven than someone who has a bible in his hand all his life, yet points his finger in judgement everytime he sees someone doing things differently compared to himself. 

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