A Taoist temple in Taiwan is attracting throngs of gay worshippers and pilgrims looking to pray for a suitable life partner.
The temple situated in the district of New Taipei City is dedicated to Tu Er Shen or the Rabbit God. It was founded by Lu Wei-ming in 2006 because gay people at that time were excluded from most traditional religious ceremonies.
Lu, 28, told Reuters news agency that he wanted to create a welcoming environment for people long ostracized. "This was a group with no one to look after them, and I wanted to fill that void," he said while maintaining that the temple is the world's only shrine exclusively for gay men.
About 9,000 gay men come annually to the temple to pray for a suitable partner, he said.
The devotee typically stands holding a small box full of prayers written on pieces of paper while Lu sets the box on fire and loudly recites Taoist chants as it burns to ashes. He then pours a small cup of rice wine on the smouldering ashes because the Rabbit God loves this kind of liquor, he said
Without naming Lu, chinatownology.com, reports how a Taoist priest promised to establish a temple dedicated to the Rabbit God should five same sex couples approach the temple for prayers or spiritual help. When five couples did indeed turn up, the priest officially established the Rabbit Temple. Rabbit is the traditional Chinese derogatory word for gay men.
There is also a 400-year-old legend associated with the Rabbit God who lived in Qing dynasty China as Hu Tianbao. He was attracted to a handsome imperial inspector and was beaten to death after he was caught peeping on the inspector through a bathroom wall and confessed to his affections for the other man.
Officials of the underworld empathized with his unrequited love and appointed him as the deity and safe-guarder of gay relationships.
This message came to the imperial inspector in a dream and he erected a shrine to honour Hu Tianbao. The shrine later became popular in Fujian province where it is acceptable for a man and boy to form a bond and speak of each other as brothers
In many Taiwan temples, there is also a chamber for Yue Lao, a deity where straight couples or singles in search of love leave messages. The Rabbit God is the counterpart of Yue Lao and in charge of gay relationships.
“A deity in charge of gay relationships is refreshing news. In many countries, religious condemnation and criminal persecution of the homosexuals is very common,” according to chinatownology.com.
Marriage between same-sex couples is not yet legally recognized in Taiwan, although 3.5 to 5 percent or at least 1.2 million of the 23.4 million people in Taiwan identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
A draft bill that would legalize same-sex marriage cleared a first reading in the Legislative Yuan but stalled largely due to religious opposition to revising Article 972 of the Civil Code to change the term “man and woman” to “two parties” and the term “father and mother” to “parents.”
Nonetheless, Taiwan remains one of Asia’s few LGBT tolerant countries that legally protects its gay citizens from discrimination and unjust harassment on the basis of sexual orientation.