Voters in Taiwan have rejected the legalisation of same-sex marriage in a move that casts doubt over the future of LGBT rights on the island.
The result of this weekend’s referendum is a “bitter blow and step backwards for human rights,” according to Annie Huang, Taiwan’s Acting Director at Amnesty International.
“However, despite this setback, we remain confident that love and equality will ultimately prevail.”
In 2017, the Constitutional Court ruled that the current law was unconstitutional and gave the legislature two years to change existing laws or pass new legislation to legalise same-sex marriage.
The decision “seemed certain to cement Taiwan’s status as a haven in Asia for LGBT activism” and pave the way for the island to become the first place in Asia to legalise same-sex unions, the Washington Post says.
But in a series of public votes on Saturday, the Taiwanese public backed the definition of marriage as the union of a man and woman. They also supported a proposal that schools avoid teaching LGBT “education”.
LGBT activists have accused conservative groups of spreading misinformation and running homophobic advertising campaigns ahead of the vote, the Post reports.
This includes using chat apps to spread rumours that same-sex marriage will prompt a wave of HIV-positive gay men to move to Taiwan to take advantage of its health-care system, the paper adds.
What happens next?
“The referendum is a general survey — it doesn’t have very strong legal implications,” said Shiau Hong-chi, professor of gender studies and communications management at Shih-Hsin University in Taiwan.
“One way or another it has to go back to the court,” he told the Associated Press.
The government has previously said it will bring about the changes required by the Constitutional Court ruling, regardless of the referendum result.
But campaigners fear the eventual legislation will be weaker, the BBC reports.
“One possible outcome could be that gay couples are given legal protection – but not allowed to get married,” the broadcaster says.