Taiwan hosts its biggest same-sex 'wedding' party

TAIPEI - About 80 lesbian couples tied the knot in Taiwan's biggest same-sex "wedding party" in a massive gesture that organisers said on Sunday offered hope that the island will soon legalise gay marriage.

Many of the couples donned white dresses and veils for the "Barbie and Barbie's wedding", which was held overnight in downtown Taipei, attracting about 1,000 visitors, including friends, relatives and curious onlookers.

"I feel very hopeful that Taiwan will legalise same-sex marriage soon," said one of the brides, 32-year-old stylist Celine Chen, who plans a honeymoon in New York, which in June became the sixth US state to legalise gay marriage.

Even though same-sex unions are not legal in Taiwan, the celebrations went on smoothly without police interference or protests.

Many of the couples kissed, hugged and posed for photographs while receiving an unofficial certificate from the organisers that stated they were now "united in holy matrimony".

The event climaxed with a couple exchanging rings and saying "I do" amid roaring cheers from the crowd.

But in a brief moment of sadness, some of the participants acknowledged that the marriages were not bona fide.

"The wedding party is fun but it's not real," said Coral Huang, who has been with her partner for eight years and intends to go to Europe to wed legally.

"Getting a genuine marriage certificate is very meaningful as it shows that we are being recognised and accepted."

Taiwan is becoming more open-minded towards its homosexual population, and the island's gay rights groups last year said they had hosted Asia's biggest gay pride parade, with a turnout of 30,000.

In an opinion poll conducted in 2008 by the International Social Survey Programme, a global network dedicated to social science research, 17.5 per cent of Taiwanese participants said that homosexual behaviour was "not wrong at all".

While significantly lower than the United States, where 32.3 per cent held that view, it was much higher than the 5.5 per cent scored in Japan and 4.4 per cent in the Philippines.

The cabinet in 2003 drafted a controversial bill to legalise same-sex marriages and allow homosexual couples to adopt children, the first in Asia to promise to do so.

But President Ma Ying-jeou has said that public consensus was needed to be reached before the government can move ahead with the legislation.