Saturday, March 25, 2017

The sad case of DPP Justice Minister Chiu Tai-san

Onions. Because Chiu Tai-san makes me cry.

Our DPP Justice Minister revealed himself to be not only a retrograde thinker, but a Han nationalist to boot. Speaking on gay marriage at a hearing that was live streamed, Justice Minister Chiu Tai-san said:
“The Civil Code stipulates that marriage shall be between a man and a woman, and as such it is not unconstitutional. The Constitution guarantees citizens’ right to marry as that between a man and a woman, while marriage between people of the same sex is not covered under the Constitution,” Chiu said.

“For thousands of years in the nation’s history, society has instituted traditions and codes of conduct regarding marriage. Has there ever been a cultural institution or social phenomenon for same-sex marriage?” Chiu said.

“Without a doubt, there has been none,” Chiu said.

He then quoted one section of the Chinese classic I Ching (易經), also known as the Book of Changes, which reads: “With the existence of the earth and the sky, there came all living things. With the existence of the earth and the sky, there came men and women,” which he said illustrates that Chinese marriage traditions have — since ancient times — been based on a union between a man and a woman.
This kind of argument is completely idiotic -- projecting modern institutions into the past in order to legitimate them. Jenna (added: actually her quietly brilliant husband) tracked down this website giving some examples of different kinds of marriages in China over time. Recall that polygamy was common, with not only multiple wives but also concubines. And women marrying a set of brothers was a known marriage form. Any competent anthropologist could give many examples of other forms of marriage not only in China but all over the world.

The issue is exactly the same as in the US, where "conservatives" scream the lie that marriage has always been one man, one woman. Reality is always the opposite of such fantasies. It is not difficult to find the many works that depict the deep roots of homosexuality and same-sex marriage in Chinese culture. Take the introduction to this book, which remarks on the commonality of homosexuality in Chinese culture:
Many times homosexuality acted as an integral part of society, complete with same-sex marriages for both men and women. 
You don't have to know anything about gay marriage in Chinese history to know that if a social conservative is asserting something about marriage and history, he's almost certainly wrong. Indeed, in many Buddhist circles where reincarnation is believed, it is also believed that two souls are fated to marry each other irrespective of sex, which provided religious sanction for homosexual marriage in ancient Chinese society. Of course many regions had their own traditions of gay marriage. Chiu's claims are a perfect melding of idiocy and ignorance.

Why O why can't science and scholarship form the basis of our public discourse and decision-making?

Despite Chiu Tai-san's claim, the ROC Constitution does not mention marriage, as far as I can see. Article 7 guarantees equality before the law, while Article 8 guarantees personal freedom. How you interpret that is up to you. But it seems to me that it is hard to uphold Article 7 yet oppose gay marriage.

Citing the I Ching is unwise, at best. A DPP minister should take the view that Taiwan can form its own traditions, customs, and cultures, and that China should be left behind. Using Chinese historical hokum as the basis for arguments in modern society should never be a DPP practice, it tends to create connections where none are necessary.

Moreover, anti-homosexuality in modern Taiwan has its roots in another discourse -- that of state power and control, the heterosexualization of society, and the faux Confucian morality of the KMT's Party-State. This paper observes:
During the first two decades of Kuomintang (KMT) rule, Taiwan experienced steady economic growth but changes to the political system were not permitted; the corporatist model of KMT rule was omnipresent. Taiwanese society between the 1950s and 1960s could be described as heterosexualized in terms of discourse; “family values” were regarded as deriving directly from a stable Confucian and Chinese tradition and public discourses of same-sex desire were almost non-existent:
...revealing the fundamental truth: that assertions of "family values" are the code language of right-wing nationalist state power and control.

Hence, when Chiu Tai-san marginalized gay marriage (and implicitly, gayness) as "unChinese", he was invoking decades of this rightist, ahistorical, inhuman discourse that helped form the basis of KMT power in Taiwan.

Thanks, Chiu Tai-san. You're a genius.

Imagine if Chiu had taken another view -- that gay marriage was an ancient practice in south China from whence many ancestors of Taiwanese arrived. Imagine if his use of history had been informed, sensitive, and progressive. Imagine if he'd envisioned gay people as human beings like himself....

Total fail on all fronts by Chiu Tai-san.
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Anonymous said...

Chiu Tai-San: "...“For thousands of years in the nation’s history, ..."

That says a lot about Tsai Ing-wen herself, who personally chose Chiu as the Justice Minister and insisted on his nomination in spite of strong criticism from the Taiwanese camp.

Another case in point is the current Straits Exchange Foundation Chairman Tien Hung-mao, who phoned and threatened the life of the Nobel laureate Mr. Lee Yuan-Tseh and his family in 2000 when the latter publicaly supported the presidential candidacy of Mr. Chen Shui-Bian. Tien is also a personal choice of Tsai herself.

I do not trust Tsai Ing-wen at all.

Anonymous said...

Two thumbs up, Michael!

Guy said...

Great post. Chiu Tai-san must go!


Anonymous said...

Anon 2

Chiu's comments are almost word for word what Wu Den-yih told a crowd last month:

"The nation can work on legislating a specific act regulating same-sex marriages, he said, adding that amending the Civil Code would disrupt the lives of the majority and an ethical order that has been in place for centuries."
Taipei Times

Unknown said...

Embarassed to have the same last name as that guy...

Anyway, I am still mostly baffled that opponents of same-sex marriage still somehow believe that letting homosexual people marry would affect them, or "social order" in any way.

What they fail to see is that marriage in its roots is just people pledging themselves to each other. Which presumably gay people ALREADY do.

It's not a matter of "social order" due to gay people being together - they already are, so in a sense, the pledge part of same sex marriage already exists, and society hasn't fallen apart.

It's a matter of legal equality and protection, of giving people the same rights before the law they have been denied before.

Homosexual people are - and have always been - part of any society. I would even argue they have been amongst the most valuable parts of society, contributing to science, technology, arts, music in high numbers. Without homosexual people, we would have no computers, and last I checked, computing technology was one of the industries that let Taiwan prosper economically.

Taiwan should be thankful for homosexual people. And they should finally give them the same rights everyone else has. It's that easy.

I wish my Chinese was good enough, then I'd write the exact same thing to the Minister of Justice.

John Groot said...

Interesting book you linked to. But it's the Taiwanese who need to know about the tradition of homosexuality in China, especially the Qing Dynasty. Telling us is fine of course, and thanks for that. But educating typical hetero Taiwanese people would probably result in greater for support for marriage equality over the long term.

Anonymous said...

One should note that this "debate" is about whether

(1) to revise the civil code to change "Man and Woman" as marriage partners to "Two Persons",


(2) to devise a separate, new law "Special Act" to regulate same-sex marriage.

The debate in Taiwan has not been about whether or not to allow legal same-sex marriage. The pro and con sides all don't have a problem with giving legal protection for same-sex union, they only differ in the how.

Those for the option (2) argue that

(a) The existing civil code is very comprehensive and a revision would not be just a matter of changing the wording of the marriage partners in one clause of the civil code. Rather, it involves the revision of many articles in the civil code. It would be a very time consuming endeavor and an article-to-article review and legal voting may take years to complete. A separate "special act" can be done quickly and allow the civil code the time to be revised.

(b) a "special act" would not touch upon the existing family structure definition that is key to many articles in the civil code. The "thousand-year-nation-history" Chinese-wannabe Chiu Tai-san's disgusting comments were meant to talk about the change of family structure definition. His "Chineseness Mind-set" and his damaged brain got the better of him; well, now, we all know what a stupid person Tsai Ing-wen has put in place to be part of the "justice reform."

I think the gay Taiwanese should opt for (2) to get the thing done first and, subsequently, diligently watch for the civil code revision. A heated, meaningless debate such as the current one will only harm the support for gay people among those who don't have the time to follow the debate because people don't want the society to spend so much resources on this. The nation has much more to deal with right now.

Germany for instance only allows for gay civil union, not outright gay marriage. So, option (2) is not a tragedy at all.