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Taiwan accepts same-sex marriage, so why not adopt it?

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This year, in a landmark lawsuit, the two men became the first same-sex couple on the island to legally adopt a child neither of them is related to.

Now they are living their family dream with daughter Joujou, 4, in the southern city of Kaohsiung, in an apartment decorated with rainbow flags and family photos. But while their family life is happy, their hard-won court victory is bittersweet.

“We can’t be too happy about our victory because many of our friends are still facing a lot of difficulties,” said Chen, 35. “Even after gay marriage was legalized, we didn’t feel welcome to have children together. family,” added Wang, 38. “We were treated like second-class citizens.”

While Taiwan became the first jurisdiction in the region to legalize same-sex marriage in 2019, the change in law did not stop at granting full adoption rights to gay couples.

That has created a strange loophole in which heterosexual couples — and singles of all sexual orientations — are allowed to adopt children they are not biologically related to, but same-sex couples are not. To this day, Wang and Chen are the only same-sex married couple on the island to have done so.

Chen Jun-ru (right, holding his daughter) and Wang Chen-wei (left) arrive at Xinyi District Office in Taipei on January 13, 2022.

A blot on a progressive reputation

Activists say this loophole shows that, despite the progress Taiwan has made in recognizing LGBTQ rights, the island still has a long way to go before same-sex couples have true equality.

The loophole in the adoption law isn’t the only problem left after 2019. The law change hasn’t led to full recognition of same-sex transnational marriages either; foreign spouses are only recognized if same-sex marriage is also legal in their own jurisdiction.

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Freddy Lim, an independent member of parliament in Taiwan who advocates for LGBTQ rights, said the loophole was created because at the time the law was amended, society “continued to face a lot of opposition from anti-LGBTQ groups.” So the government focused “only on legalizing marriage, but not on rights related to child adoption.”

However, Lim believes attitudes have changed enough since then for the law to change again. In May, Lim and a bipartisan group of lawmakers proposed updating the law with a bill he hopes could be passed by the end of the year.

“If a society treats people differently based on their sexual orientation, it must have a strong public interest reason. But there isn’t one, so it’s clearly a form of discrimination,” Lim said.

Taiwanese lawmaker Freddy Lim is an advocate for LGBTQ rights.

From despair to a miracle

Any change can’t come too soon for Wang and Chen, who hope their friends will be spared the ordeal they’ve endured.

Wang and Chen, both teachers from southern Taiwan, had been dating for more than a decade when they began the adoption process in 2016. Wang made the application on his behalf and a court confirmed his eligibility in 2019 – after rigorous checks of both men by social workers.

Everything seemed ready for a happy family life.

“When same-sex marriage was legalized (a year later), we had hopes of raising a child together,” Chen recalled.

However, Chen was told that he would not be able to register as the girl’s legal parent even if the couple got married. It was heartbreaking for Chen, who found himself unable to perform the kind of parental duties most families take for granted — like signing his daughter’s school or bank papers.

“Every time we had to apply for our daughter, I was afraid to be asked about my relationship with her. I’ve always been her father, but I wasn’t recognized as a parent,” Chen said.

In April last year, Wang and Chen, along with two other couples, filed a petition in a family court in the city of Kaohsiung. They had expected the case to be dismissed – assuming they could then appeal to the Taiwan Supreme Court and eventually force a change in the law.

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But to their surprise, the family court ruled in their favor in January because it was in Joujou’s best interest to have both legal parents. The other two cases were dropped.

“I was amazed, it was a miracle,” Chen said. “Until then I lived with my daughter, but by law I was not related to her.”

Wang said the ruling was important for two reasons: It made it easier for the couple to care for their daughter — and it also gave other couples like her hope.

“I feel relieved now,” Wang said. “We can both act as legal parents and share the burden. And if Joujou gets sick and needs to see a doctor, we’re both legally eligible to take leave and care for her.”

In January, a family court in Taiwan ruled that both Wang and Chen could legally adopt their daughter as a family — the first case since the island's legalization of same-sex marriage in 2019.

A tough fight

The problem is that the family court ruling only applies to Wang and Chen. Other same-sex couples in Taiwan still face an uphill battle.

Jordan, an American woman, is fighting to register as the mother of her Taiwanese wife’s adopted child. She met her wife Ray six years ago and Ray began the adoption process in 2018 – before the couple got married.

The couple asked CNN not to reveal their full names in order to protect the 7-year-old girl.

“Initially it was just my wife who adopted because I wasn’t too sure whether or not I wanted to grow up at the time,” Jordan said. “But within about a month of my daughter coming home, she and I developed a very close relationship.”

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Last April, Jordan filed her petition in a family court along with Wang and Chen. However, her case was dismissed.

“We want equal protection under the law,” she said. “If something happened to my wife – she has an autoimmune disease, with Covid on the way – not only would my daughter lose her mom, she would lose me because she would be taken from me, like me” don’t adopt her,” she said.

“We’re a family, but it still feels like we’re not a complete family. If it’s a right given to straight people, it’s important that we’re treated exactly the same,” she added.

Jordan said that while Taiwan’s forward-thinking reputation was boosted by the legalization of same-sex marriage, more efforts were needed to ensure equality for LGBTQ couples.

“A lot of people — even here in Taiwan — don’t realize we still don’t have full equality,” she said.

“It really kept us from celebrating as much as we would have liked.”

Still, activists say there are reasons for optimism.

Joyce Teng, deputy executive director of Taiwan Equality Campaign, said that since same-sex marriage was legalized three years ago, there has been “a greater degree of acceptance and support” in society.

In the latest annual survey published last month, the campaign found that 67% of Taiwanese supported allowing LGBTQ couples to adopt children, an 8% increase from a year ago.

People take to the streets of Taipei during the city's annual Pride festival in 2020. The island has a progressive reputation in Asia, boosted by the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2019.

Wang said he hopes the law can be changed as soon as possible so that other couples can enjoy the same rights as him and Chen.

“There are many families who are afraid to file petitions in court because they don’t want to attract the attention of society or the media,” Wang said. “If the law remains unchanged, many could be afraid to stand up for their rights.”

There’s also Taiwan’s reputation to ponder — not just as an enlightened jurisdiction for LGBTQ rights, but its image as a free and democratic beacon in the Asia-Pacific region.

“When the international community looks at Taiwan, we are often viewed as the first line of defense against authoritarianism,” lawmaker Lim said.

“But if we really want to portray ourselves as free, equal and democratic… then we need to recognize and resolve injustices in our society – and LGBTQ rights are an important part of this.”

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