Taiwan’s constitutional court began hearing a landmark case on Friday that could make the island the first place in Asia to allow same-sex marriage.
A panel of 14 grand justices will hear a debate over a disputed law that critics say is unconstitutional because it prevents unions between gay couples. Campaigners for change gathered with rainbow flags outside the court in Taipei, which was heavily guarded on Friday morning.
“Gay people as citizens deserve equal rights and protections under the law,” 24-year-old salesperson Lan Shi-kai said.
Two petitions for an interpretation of Taiwan’s Civil Code have been brought by veteran gay rights activist Chi Chia-wei and the Taipei city government, which has been receiving a growing number of requests to register gay marriages.
Lawyers for Chi, legal experts and government officials will take part in the court debate, with a ruling expected within two months.
“The constitutional court’s decision is legally-binding,” Hsieh Kuo-lien, a law professor at National University of Kaohsiung, said.
“If its decision is favourable to gay rights activists, it would be effectively legalising same-sex marriage.”
At the centre of the case is a clause in the Civil Code which says an agreement to marry should be made between a man and a woman. Authorities in Taiwan have been rejecting applications for same-sex marriages based on this clause.
The court will hear arguments over whether that part of the Civil Code contravenes elements in Taiwan’s constitution which guarantee equality and freedom of marriage.
It comes after the first draft of a bill to legalise gay marriage was passed by Taiwan’s parliament in December.
A legislative committee approved an amendment to the civil law that would allow gay couples to legally tie the knot. That bill is now due for a second reading.
Taiwan is considered progressive on many issues including gay rights, however its roots in Confucianism translate into a strong sense of adherence to traditional mores.
There has been growing momentum behind the campaign to change the law.
However, the debate has also split society, with conservative groups saying allowing same-sex unions would destroy family values.
Both sides have staged huge marches in recent months, with tens of thousands taking to the streets.
Activist Chi brought the petition to the constitutional court after multiple failed legal bids to seek recognition of his marriage.
His latest setback was in 2014 when the Taipei High Administrative Court ruled in favour of a government agency that turned Chi and his partner away when they tried to legally register their union.
“I am cautiously optimistic as the world trend is to recognise same-sex marriage and the grand justices are unlikely to bar it,” Chi told AFP ahead of the court hearing on Friday.
Past attempts to legalise same-sex marriage stalled under the Kuomintang party, which dominated politics for decades until it was unseated by President Tsai Ing-wen’s Democratic Progressive Party last year.
Campaigners were given new hope when Tsai was elected as she has openly supported marriage equality.
Zimbawe’s doctor goes missing after masterminding strike
Fearless Zimbabwe’s minister of health has called on the government to address insecurity lapses that has lead to the disappearance Peter Magombeyi, the head of a doctor’s union, who disappeared on Saturday.
Fears are rising over the fate of Zimbabwe medical doctor Dr Peter Magombeyi after he sent a message to say he had been abducted in that country by unknown persons – apparently for demanding a “living wage”.
An AFP report earlier on Sunday quoted the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctor’s Association (ZHDA) as saying Magombeyi had not been heard from since he sent a WhatsApp message on Saturday night saying he had been “kidnapped by three men”.
Zimbabwe doctors, who earn a miserly equivalent of about R3 000 are on strike to press for better wages, equipment and medicines in state hospitals.
The ZHDA has reportedly accused state security forces of abducting the doctor because of his role in organising work stoppages.
This week some doctors said the death of deposed Robert Mugabe, 95, in a Singapore hospital on 6 September was an indication of how bad health services in Zimbabwe
“Dr Magombeyi’s crime is only to ask for a living wage for his profession. This is a reflection of the troubles born out of refusal to implement Political Reforms.”
The Zimbabwe government led by Emmerson Mnangagwa has not publicly commented on the doctor’s disappearance
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The south Africans sangs as they marched through the street and also held up a banner which called for unity among Africans, week after the attack which led to destruction of properties and looting of shops owned by foreigners.
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