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

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

Now they are making their family dream come true with 4-year-old daughter Jojo in the southern city of Kaohsiung, in an apartment adorned with rainbow flags and family photos. However, while their married life is happy, their hard-won victory in court is bittersweet.

“We can’t be too happy about our victory because many of our friends are still facing many difficulties,” said Chen, 35. family,” Wang, 38, added. “We were treated like second-class citizens.”

While Taiwan in 2019 became the first jurisdiction in the region to legalize same-sex marriagelegal changes did not grant full adoption rights to homosexual couples.

This created a strange loophole in which heterosexual couples — and single people of any sexual orientation — are allowed to adopt children with whom they are not biologically related, but same-sex couples are not. To this day, Wang and Chen remain the only same-sex married couple on the island to do so.

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

Blot on progressive reputation

Activists say the loophole shows that despite Taiwan’s success in recognizing LGBTQ rights, the island still has a long way to go before same-sex couples achieve true equality.

The adoption loophole is not the only problem left over from 2019. Legal changes also failed to fully recognize same-sex transnational marriages; foreign spouses are only recognized if same-sex marriage is also legal in their home jurisdiction.

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Freddy Lim, an independent member of Taiwan’s parliament who campaigns for LGBTQ rights, said the loophole arose because at the time the law was changed, society was still “faced with strong opposition from anti-LGBTQ groups” therefore the government focused “only on the legalization of marriage, but not on the rights relating to the adoption of a child”.

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 amending the law with a bill that he hopes could be passed by the end of the year.

“If society treats people differently based on their sexual orientation, there must be a good reason for this in the public interest. But it doesn’t exist, so it’s clearly a form of discrimination,” Lim said.

Taiwan MP Freddie Lim is an advocate for LGBTQ rights.

From despair to wonder

Any change cannot come too soon for Wang and Chen, who hope their friends are spared the trials they face.

Wang and Chen, both teachers from southern Taiwan, had been dating for over a decade when they began the adoption process in 2016. Wang applied on his own behalf, and the court upheld his suitability in 2019 after a thorough review of both men. social workers.

Everything was ready for a happy family life.

“When same-sex marriage was legalized (a year later), there was hope for us to raise a child together,” Chen recalls.

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 being prevented from doing parenting duties that most families take for granted, like signing his daughter’s school or bank documents.

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

In April last year, Wang and Chen, along with two other couples, filed lawsuits in the Family Court in Kaohsiung City. They expected the case to be dismissed, believing that they could then appeal to the Taiwan Supreme Court and eventually get the law changed.

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However, to their surprise, in January the family court ruled in their favor on the grounds that it was in Zhuju’s interests to have both legal parents. Two other cases were dropped.

“I was amazed, it was a miracle,” Chen said. “Before that, I lived with my daughter, but I was not legally related to her.”

Wang said the decision is important for two reasons: it made it easier for the couple to care for their daughter, and it also gave hope to other couples like them.

“Now I feel relieved,” Wang said. “We can both act as legal parents and share the burden. And if JoJo gets sick and needs to see a doctor, we both have the legal right to take time off and take care of her.”

In January, a family court in Taiwan ruled that both Wang and Chen could legally adopt their daughter as family, the first such case since same-sex marriage was legalized on the island in 2019.

Tough battle

The problem is that the family court decision only applies to Wang and Chen. Other same-sex couples in Taiwan are still having a hard time.

Jordan, an American, 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 to protect the 7-year-old girl.

“Initially, it was only my wife who adopted me, because at the time I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a parent,” Jordan said. “But about a month after my daughter returned home, we developed a very close relationship with her.”

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In April last year, Jordan filed a motion in family court at the same time as Wang and Chen. However, her case was terminated.

“We want equal protection under the law,” she said. “If something happens to my wife, she has an autoimmune disease, COVID-19 if the time comes – then my daughter will not only lose her mother, she will also lose me, because she will be taken away from me, since I am not allowed to adopt her,” she said.

“We are a family, but it still seems that we are not a full-fledged family. If this right is granted to heterosexuals, it is important that we are treated in the same way,” she added.

Jordan said that while Taiwan’s progressive reputation has been bolstered by the legalization of same-sex marriage, more efforts are needed to ensure equality for LGBT couples.

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

“It really stopped us from celebrating as much as we wanted to.”

Still, activists say there are grounds for optimism.

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

In its latest annual poll released last month, the campaign found that 67% of Taiwanese supported allowing LGBT couples to adopt children, up 8% 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, helped by the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2019.

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

“There are many families who are afraid to file a lawsuit because they don’t want to attract public or media attention,” Wang said. “If the law remains unchanged, many may be afraid to stand up for their rights.”

One should also think about Taiwan’s reputation – not only as an enlightened jurisdiction for protecting LGBTQ rights, but also as its image of a free and democratic beacon in the Asia-Pacific region.

“When the international community looks to Taiwan, we are often seen as the first line of defense against authoritarianism,” MP Lim said.

“But if we really want to portray ourselves as free, equal and democratic…then we have to recognize and address the injustices in our society, and LGBTQ rights are an important part of that.”