Taiwan's military includes same-sex couples in wedding for first time

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
The couples are the first to take part in a mass military wedding

Two lesbian couples have become the first to take part in a mass military wedding in Taiwan, the only place in Asia to have legalised gay marriage.

Taiwan's army holds mass weddings every year, but this was the first time same-sex couples have taken part in one.

One of the couples involved said she hoped it would inspire "more LGBT people in the military [to] stand up".

Some 4,000 couples have married since Taiwan legalised same-sex marriage last year.

"Our military is very open-minded," Chen Ying-xuan, an army lieutenant who married Lee Ying-ying, told news agency the Associated Press (AP).

"In matters of love, everyone will be treated equally," she said, adding that she had always open about her sexual orientation.

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
Wang Yi (right) and Meng You-mei pose for the cameras

Major Wang Yi and her wife Meng You-mei wed carrying a pride flag each throughout the ceremony.

Ms Meng's parents did not come to the celebration, but both Ms Wang's parents and her teacher came in support of the couple.

"I really feel this is a huge breakthrough for the military," Ms Wang's mother told AP. "Perhaps for heterosexual couples, its just a [piece of] paper, but its very important for gay couples."

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
A total of 188 couples took part in the ceremony

Taiwan's army said including same-sex couples in this year's ceremony reflected its "enlightened [and] progressive" attitude. It said that it gave each couple - regardless of their sexual preference - their blessing.

Last year, three homosexual couples had registered to take part in the military's annual weddings. However, they eventually backed out due to "social pressure", according to local news outlets quoting military sources.

Taiwan legalised same-sex marriage last year, though gay couples still do not enjoy equal rights as heterosexual couples.

In 2017, Taiwan's constitutional court ruled the same-sex couples had the right to legally marry. But it was met with public backlash, with a majority of voters rejecting legalising same-sex marriage.

As a result, Taiwan said it would not alter its existing definition of marriage in civil law and instead enact a special law for same-sex marriage.

It means same-sex couples face a few restrictions, including only being able to marry foreigners from countries where gay marriage is also recognised. They are also only allowed to adopt each other's biological children.

A union largely greeted with open arms

Analysis by Cindy Sui, Taiwan correspondent

Even before Taiwan legalised same-sex marriages last year, the military had for years invited gay rights groups to give talks to soldiers to educate them about acceptance and to end discrimination in the military.

The news that the military had included a same-sex couple in a mass wedding ceremony was met with little fanfare in the media in Taiwan, where the majority of people have a relaxed and progressive attitude towards the issue. Taiwan has long been a leader for gay rights in Asia. People knew the wedding had taken place and they were fine with it. Even groups against same-sex marriage did not issue statements in response.

Gay rights groups in Taiwan say surveys suggest more and more people are becoming accepting towards gay marriage since it was legalised last year, including many who were against the idea beforehand.

But opposition groups here do draw a red line when it comes to schools. There are legal protections for same-sex education, but many parents and religious groups still stand firmly against it.

Media caption,
Three couples and a wedding to celebrate Taiwan marriage equality