Taiwan became the first Asian country to embrace same-sex marriage in May 2017 after its Council of Grand Justices ruled that regulations that prohibit marriage between same-sex partners are unconstitutional. The court asserted that the regulations violate rights to the freedom of marriage and equality among citizens and gave the legislature two years create new laws.
Yet the path of legal reform is rocky. Conservative groups are seeking a referendum campaign to recall legislators who are trying to enact the court’s decision. These recall election campaigns are mobilized by the Stable Force Alliance, composed of the Faith and Hope League, a right-wing Christian political party, and some significant members in the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan.
They are targeting, among others, the legislator Kuo-Chang Huang, the chairperson of New Power Party, the legislator of New Taipei City 12th district since 2016. Huang is a distinguished legal scholar and one of the leaders of the Sunflower Movement, which helped end the rule of the Kuomingtang in Taiwan. During his two years in the Legislative Yuan, he has investigated serious corruption cases. This work has angered other conservative political forces and corrupt politicians, who hope to bring him down.
If a well-recognized legislator like Huang were recalled because of his support for same-sex marriage, the chilling effect might stop the progress of the same-sex marriage bill.
Unfortunately for Huang and the same-sex marriage bill, current regulations make electoral recall easy. Nathan Batto, a political researcher, explains that before the recall election regulations were revised in 2016, they required a turnout threshold of 50% of eligible voters, which made a recall to be nearly impossible. Rules revisions removed the minimum threshold for turnout.
The recall election for Huang will be held December 16. The Faith and Hope League campaign is now backed by the a group calling themselves the ‘South and North Presbyterian Churches’ and the Kaohsiung-Pingtung Alliance, who issued a public statement on December 8. This statement gave a real boost to the anti-gay groups because the Presbyterian Church is the largest Protestant Christian denomination in Taiwan. This statement also ignited furious debate among members of the Presbyterian Church, in part because the name ‘South and North Presbyterian Churches’ has not been used since they were integrated as the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan in 1950.
Mu-Min Shih, a member of the Presbyterian Church, explained on his Facebook page that the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan does not endorse this statement.
The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church did not decide to support the recall election for Huang. There is no such official document. Those people who signed that statement with their titles affiliated to the Presbyterian Church are on behalf of themselves.
The Presbyterian Church Youth Alliance also criticized the flaws in the democratic and bureaucratic systems in the Presbyterian church.
This raises the question that we keep asking since our Alliance was assembled: the Presbyterian Church's representative system has a problem.
Why could these Presbyterians announce this statement without any discussion with their members? Why would they release their own statement without consulting the General Assembly?
If Huang is recalled it will have implications for same-sex marriage regulations in Taiwan. The Stable Force League would likely seek to recall other legislators who support same-sex marriage and seek to stop the same-sex marriage bill. If this recall election fails, the Stable Force League might dissolve, and the same-sex marriage bill would be carried out as mandated by the top court.
Regardless of the results of this recall election, the Presbyterian Church will face the pressure to reform. Although the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church has not issued a statement to support Huang's recall, some feel its silence is a conspicuous gesture of approval. For example Josephine Hsu, a member of the Presbyterian Church, therefore called for reformation of the Church on her Facebook page:
The General Assembly keeps complete silence this time. It did not even say something like ‘we do not have consensus, and we hope citizens can evaluate the legislators by their performance, and we should pursue correct information for the love of God’.[…] The Presbyterian Church has been in Taiwan for 150 years, and it is not possible to be immune to corruption.[…] All reformation is power struggle. If the revolution does not succeed, young people will leave the Church.
December 17 update: Pro-same-sex marriage legislator Kuo-Chang Huang has survived the recall vote on December 16. Although there were more ‘Yes’ votes than ‘No’ votes, recall supporters were unable to mobilize 25 percent of eligible voters to pass the threshold for a recall vote. Based on the recall election regulations, recall supporters cannot apply for another recall election for Huang in his term of office.