For the LGBT Community, this is obviously incredibly positive and important - and without a Formalised Same-sex Partnership structure, LGBT Couples have little or no legal rights or benefits when it comes to issues like Property, Medical Cover, Inheritance and Taxation. Even LGBT couples formally married or partnered in a ‘country of origin’ can face issues when travelling to or working in locations that do not recognise such protections. This can for example mean that a married or partnered LGBT couple could face issues in a medical emergency in a location where they have no legal status as a couple.
In Asia, despite International Financial Centres like Hong Kong and Singapore promoting themselves as ‘World Cities’ and pressure from Global Businesses operating there, neither local nor ex-pat same-sex couples have such legal protections. Indeed, the Hong Kong Government has been forced ‘kicking and screaming’ following court challenges to accept aspects like LGBT spousal visas. Meanwhile, Singapore still has 377A (which criminalises Gay sex) and any notion of a legally recognised LGBT Partnership Structure sadly seems a long way off. Mainland China has an estimated LGBT Community of over 90 million people (Source: LGBT Capital, 2018 data), as well as a developing economy, but nevertheless still no protections in law for LGBT Partners. A couple of years ago, Vietnam granted permission for same-sex couples to marry but did not back this up with legislation to formalise rights of enforcement, and as such, still offers no protections for LGBT couples.
Looking at the wider Asia Pacific region, only Australia and New Zealand offer LGBT partnership protection, with Australia having introduced same-sex marriage following a postal vote a year ago and New Zealand having introduced same-sex marriage five years ago.
Looking forward, two bright stars on the horizon to potentially be the first in Asia with same-sex partnership are Thailand and Taiwan
The Thailand Government is set to vote on an LGBT partnership this month. If approved, and while this would not offer full same-sex marriage equality, it would offer Property and Inheritance Rights as well as the right to give medical consent. Although, this would sadly also not offer the right to jointly adopt children. This ‘first step’ protection model was used in countries such as the UK and which then subsequently (and quite rapidly) led on to Full Equal Marriage legislation.
In May 2017, the Constitutional Court in Taiwan ruled that Taiwan had to introduce same-sex marriage within two years. However, following pressure from anti-LGBT groups, a public referendum was held and which rejected same-sex marriage. However, the Government has said that it will nevertheless follow the Constitutional Court’s ruling to introduce a same-sex marriage structure – although, it now looks as if this will be a separate structure rather than amending the Civil Code’s marriage language. This could effectively result in a Civil Partnership type structure.
With an increasing number of nations realising the positive potential for economic growth and innovation-prowess from more effective and genuine inclusion of the LGBT population segment and with such a big part of the World’s population living in Asia, we hope more Governments in Asia will follow the lead of Thailand and Taiwan with legislation to provide much needed protections for our Community.