June 2015 will be remembered as an important milestone in the global fight for equal rights for LGBT people. Fresh off the back of last month’s referendum in Ireland, on Friday the US Supreme court ruled that same-sex marriage was lawful across the United States of America.
The ruling added extra gusto to a popular pride weekend with events in New York, San Francisco, Toronto, Istanbul and South Korea. The implications of the ruling in the USA on the region have been debated by activists, the media and netizens. Here is a rundown on some of the discussion, let us know your opinion of how LGBT equality may unfold in your region.
South Korea’s annual pride march took place in Seoul this weekend amidst conflict with conservative Christian groups. Police estimated more than 6,000 people took part in the hour-long parade in the heart of the capital to mark the finale of the annual Korea Queer Festival that started on Jun 9.
The annual parade, which began in 2000, has in recent years attracted a growing number of people, as well as increasing opposition from conservative Christian groups. Gay rights activists say some progress has been made in recent years, and Friday's US Supreme Court decision cheered those taking part in the event
"Following the legalization of same-sex marriages in European countries, the decision in the U.S. strengthens the sense that this is the inevitable way of moving forward, and South Korean politicians will be required to express their thoughts on it," said Han Ga-ram, an openly-gay human rights lawyer and activist.
Many activists in Hong Kong believe that developments in the US signal a good time to push for equality in Hong Kong, but that anti-discrimination legislation should be a priority ahead of same-sex marriage.
Dr York Chow Yat-ngok, the chairperson of the Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC), on Saturday said Hongkongers must not bury the debate on same-sex marriage. "To Hong Kong, same-sex marriage is an inescapable issue," he said.
But members of sexual minorities advocacy group Rainbow Action said they wanted to see anti-discrimination law covering sexuality in Hong Kong before the city took on same-sex marriage. Tommy Chen, of Rainbow Action, said ”if there is still discrimination at work, how can I get married? How can I bring it to court? It really makes no sense to have same-sex marriage until we have protection from discrimination," according to the SCMP.
"It's one step forward for the United States that leaves Hong Kong one further step behind," said lawyer Michael Vidler. The outcome of the case could have an impact on the city's reputation as a global financial center and leading business hub. While the U.S. ruling won't have any effect on legislation in the specially administered Hong Kong, "clearly it shows that the tide is turning, in fact has turned, and Hong Kong has been left behind," said Vidler.
The Taipei Times highlighted recent successes made in the country, including so called ’Sunshine Registrations’ in Taipei New City that allow same-sex couples to register with the local authority. The paper also noted that over the past decade, events such as the Taiwan LGBT Pride Parade have successfully raised awareness of LGBT rights. The street party attracts tens of thousands of people from across the globe. In terms of the future, the paper predicted that “since the US is always highly influential in Taiwan, the development of the issue deserves our attention.”
However, Deputy Minister of Justice Chen Ming-tang played down any effect of the US ruling on same-sex marriage in the country saying: "All countries are not the same. In Taiwan, the issue of legalizing same-sex marriage remains extremely controversial. We must take into consideration the development of our society and public opinion. So we would not consider it for now."
Tsai Ing-wen, chairwoman of the Democratic Progressive Party and the party's presidential candidate, posted a ring in colors of the rainbow with a word in English — equality — also in multi-color. She stopped short of siding with activists who are calling for speedy legalization.
The U.S. Supreme Court's ruling rekindled public discussions on homosexuality and same-sex marriage in this traditionally conservative country.
Li Yinhe, a leading Chinese sexologist and gay rights activist said: ”The Chinese people usually think that China is a poor country and the United States is rich, and that what America has achieved is our future goal," she said. "I think the ruling will have a big impact on China and may promote the legalization of same-sex marriage in China."
Much of the online discussion focused on whether Confucius would support gay marriage after it emerged that Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the 5-4 majority ruling that "Confucius taught that marriage lies at the foundation of government.”
"I don't think Confucius said same-sex marriage was the foundation of government," one Weibo user said. "Do you think same-sex marriage was popular back in the days of ancient China?" asked another internet user, according to the SCMP.
In Thailand, one of the most tolerant countries in Asia for gays and a top tourist gay destination, there have been attempts by civil societies to introduce a bill that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.
The draft of a new constitution under the military junta that took power last year contains a clause aimed at protecting the rights of gay and transgender people. “With this new example set by the US, we will surely move forward,” said gay rights activist Nates Teerarojjapongs.
In Japan, homosexuality is not illegal, "but the atmosphere is such that most people feel homosexuals should not exist," said Kazuyuki Minami, a lawyer in Osaka. "It's tough. It's hard to come out to families, friends and in the workplace."
Communities Digital News used the Supreme Court’s decision to highlight the situation in Singapore, where homosexual activity is still illegal. “The constitutional and legal dimensions of the issue present an interesting contrast to the situation here in Singapore,” the website noted. “Section 377(a) of the Singapore Penal Code, “Outrages on decency,” essentially outlaws homosexual behavior,” it went on to say.
Last month Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Hsien Loong replied to the question of “is Singapore ready to take that issue [same-sex marriage] as well?” he replied quickly and firmly. "No, I do not think Singapore is ready."
The US ruling on gay marriages is unlikely to have any effect on Malaysia, according to the Rakyat Post. Seksualiti Merdeka founder Pang Khee Teik said that “the same [gay marriage] was still inconceivable in Malaysia, especially with the existence of laws which stipulated that same-sex relationships were illegal.”
“We often mistake the Western agenda as our own, but our present realities and needs are different. Yet, same-sex marriage in the West is often used as a cautionary tale by the politicians here to warn Malaysians against it,” He went on to say.
However, Raymond Tai, the marketing and communications director of Pink Triangle Foundation said “the U.S. court ruling has created awareness for the people all over the world including Malaysia.”
Several hundred gays, lesbians and transgender people held a Gay Pride rally Saturday in Manila to push for LGBT rights and to celebrate the U.S. Supreme Court decision. About 500 people marched around Manila's Rizal Park, many carrying placards and streamers saying "Fight for Love" and waving rainbow banners.
Jonas Bagas, executive director of the pro-LGBT rights group TLF Share, said that the US decision would reverberate around the world. "We hope that after this decision, the struggle for equality can be reframed to go beyond marriage equality so that we can address other dehumanizing situations that LGBTs encounter," Bagas said.
Activists seeking to win legal recognition for same-sex marriages believe the US ruling will be useful, particularly since the country’s legal setup is largely based on the US system, said Sylvia Estrada-Claudio, a gender rights advocate and professor at the University of the Philippines.
“This ruling will have positive repercussions for our own movements here,” Claudio said. The Philippines’ civil code limits marriage to a union between a man and a woman—but the constitutionality of this proviso is being challenged by a lawyer, Jesus Nicardo Falcis III.
However, the Philippines’ Roman Catholic church stressed its opposition to the ruling in the US. “The Church continues to maintain what it has always taught. Marriage is permanent union of man and woman,” said Archbishop Socrates Villegas, the president of the influential Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines. “This is the way the Church has always read Sacred Scriptures. This is the way it has lived its faith, inspired by the Holy Spirit,” Villegas said in a statement on the group’s website.
There was a glimmer of hope as he also said that “the US Supreme Court decision will not go unheeded. We shall study it with assiduousness, and revisit our concepts and presuppositions.”