TAIPEI • Taiwan's Parliament legalised same-sex marriage yesterday in a landmark first for Asia as the government survived a last-minute attempt by conservatives to pass watered-down legislation.
Lawmakers comfortably passed a Bill allowing same-sex couples to form "exclusive permanent unions" and another clause that would let them apply for a "marriage registration" with government agencies.
The vote is a major victory for the island's LGBT community, which has campaigned for years for equal marriage rights. It places the island at the vanguard of Asia's burgeoning gay rights movement.
In recent months, conservatives had mobilised to rid the law of any reference to marriage, instead putting forward rival Bills that offered something closer to limited same-sex unions. But those Bills struggled to receive enough votes.
Gay rights groups hailed the vote yesterday, saying the ability to apply for a "marriage registration" - known as Clause Four - put their community much closer to parity with heterosexual couples.
"The passage of Clause Four ensures that two persons of the same-sex can register their marriage on May 24 and ensure that Taiwan becomes the first... in Asia to legalise same-sex marriage and to successfully open a new page in history," said the Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights.
Two years ago, Taiwan's top court ruled that not allowing same-sex couples to marry violates the Constitution, with judges giving the government until May 24 this year to make the changes or see marriage equality enacted automatically.
But the law's passage will not bring full parity with heterosexual couples as even the most progressive version offers only biological adoptions.
In the last decade, Taiwan has been one of the most progressive societies in Asia when it comes to gay rights, staging the continent's biggest annual gay pride parade.
But the island remains a staunchly conservative place, especially outside urban areas.
Conservative and religious groups were buoyed by a series of referendum wins in November, in which voters comprehensively rejected defining marriage as anything other than a union between a man and a woman, illustrating the limited popular support.
The decision to legalise same-sex marriage is a "big step towards true equality" and makes Taiwan a better place, President Tsai Ing-wen said yesterday as she hailed the landmark vote.
But opponents were incensed by the vote, saying the inclusion of the "marriage registration" clause ignored the referendum.
Mr Tseng Hsien-ying, from the Coalition for the Happiness of Our Next Generation, told local media that the vote "trampled on Taiwanese people's expectations that a marriage and a family are formed by a man and a woman, a husband and a wife".
Australia and New Zealand are the only places in the wider Asia-Pacific region to have passed gay marriage laws. Taiwan is the first place in Asia to do so.