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

This year, in a landmark court case, the pair 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 their 4-year-old daughter Joujou in the southern city of Kaohsiung, in an apartment decorated with rainbow flags and family photos. Yet while their family life is happy, their hard-fought court victory is bittersweet.

« We can’t be too happy with our victory, as many of our friends are still facing many difficulties, » Chen, 35, said. “Even after same-sex marriage was legalized, we didn’t feel welcome to have children together as a 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 marriage, the legal change fell short of granting full adoption rights to same-sex couples.

This has created a strange loophole in which heterosexual couples – and single people 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 remain the only same-sex married couple on the island to have done so.

A stain on a progressive reputation

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

The adoption loophole is not the only problem that remains from 2019. The legal change also failed to grant full recognition to transnational same-sex 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 lawmaker from Taiwan who advocates for LGBTQ rights, said the loophole was because at the time the law was changed, the company « still faced a lot of opposition from anti-LGBTQ groups,” so the government focused “only on legalizing marriage, but not on the rights associated with the adoption of children.

However, Lim believes that since then attitudes have changed enough for the law to change again. In May, Lim and a bipartisan group of lawmakers offered to update the law with a bill he hopes to pass by the end of the year.

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

Taiwanese lawmaker Freddy Lim is an advocate for LGBTQ rights.

From despair to miracle

Any change cannot come too soon for Wang and Chen, who hope their friends will be spared the ordeal they have faced.

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 applied on her behalf and a court upheld her suitability in 2019 – after rigorous checks on the two 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 recalls.

However, Chen was informed 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 that most families take for granted, such as signing his daughter’s school or bank documents.

« Whenever we had to make requests for our daughter, I was afraid that I would be asked about my relationship with her. I was always her father, but I was not recognized as a parent, » said Chen.

In April last year, Wang and Chen – along with two other couples – filed petitions with a family court in Kaohsiung city. They expected the case to be thrown out – thinking they could then appeal to Taiwan’s Supreme Court and ultimately force a change in the law.

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However, to their surprise, in January the family court ruled in their favor on the grounds that it was in Joujou’s best interests to have both legal parents. The other two cases were dismissed.

« I was amazed, it was a miracle, » Chen said. « Until then I was living with my daughter, but I was not legally bound to her. »

Wang said the decision was 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.

« 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 are both legally allowed to take time off and take care of her. »

In January, a family court in Taiwan ruled that 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.

A difficult battle

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

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

The couple asked CNN not to release their full names to protect the 7-year-old.

« Initially it was just my wife adopting because I wasn’t really too sure whether I wanted to be a parent or not at that point, » Jordan said. « But about a month after my daughter returned home, she and I developed a very close relationship. »

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

« We want equal protection under the law, » she said. « If something were to happen to my wife – she has an autoimmune disease, with Covid coming – then not only would my daughter lose her mum, but she would also lose me because she would be taken from me, because I’ I don’t have the right to adopt him, » she said.

« We are a family, but we still feel like we are not a complete family. If it is a right given to straight people, it is important that we are treated exactly the same, » she said. added.

Jordan said while Taiwan’s progressive reputation had been bolstered by its 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 that we still don’t have full equality, » she said.

« It really kept us from celebrating as much as we wanted to. »

Still, campaigners 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 level of acceptance and support » in society.

In its latest annual survey released last month, the campaign found that 67% of Taiwanese support allowing LGBTQ couples to adopt children, an increase of 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, bolstered by its 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 he and Chen.

« Many families 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 may be afraid to stand up for their rights. »

Consideration should also be given to Taiwan’s reputation, not only as an enlightened jurisdiction for LGBTQ rights, but also its image as a free and democratic beacon in the Asia-Pacific region.

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

« But if we really want to present ourselves as free, equal and democratic… then we have to acknowledge and address the injustices in our society – and LGBTQ rights are an important part of that. »

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