250,000 flock to Taipei concert to demand marriage equality

PHOTO: Reuters

About 250,000 people flocked to a pop music concert featuring local and foreign stars held in support of same-sex marriage in Taipei Saturday, organizers said.

The concert on Ketagalan Boulevard in front of the Presidential Office was one of the biggest-ever gay rights events in Taiwan.

Organizers put the turnout at 250,000 while police estimated 75,000.

The event, coinciding with Human Rights Day, came amid pressure from some civic groups seeking to stop the government's bid to legalize same-sex marriage.

The concert opened with the Amis-language song "Don't Give Up" by indigenous singer-songwriter Suming Rupi.

"I hope the right to marry will be extended to all people in Taiwan," he said while addressing the crowd.

Other performers included Philippine pop chanteuse Sandee Chan, Hong Kong Canto-pop singer Denise Ho and Taiwanese Mandopop singer Dai Ailing.

Ho, who is openly gay and a fervent supporter of Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement, said she was proud to be part of the "historic moment," referring to the concert.

Three of Taiwan's top pop stars, A-mei, Jolin Tsai and Elva Hsiao, recorded video messages that were played at the concert.

A-mei, a staunch advocate of gay rights, funded the design of a flag that was handed out at the concert, according to the organizers, the Taiwan Tongzhi (LGBT) Hotline Association and Taiwan LGBT Family Rights Advocacy.

"Gay people also have the right to get married," President Tsai Ing-wen was cited as saying by Presidential Office spokesman Alex Huang, at a different event.

Lawmakers were already reviewing bills on marriage equality and the government hopes people can be more tolerant and engage in dialogue to improve the institution of marriage, Huang said.

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Yu Mei-nu told the crowd she would keep her promise to see through legislative committee review of the marriage equality bills by Dec. 26.

DPP Deputy Secretary-General Hsu Chia-ching, also speaking at the event, said her party's position would not change her support for same-sex marriage.

Party lawmakers have yet to reach a consensus over marriage equality legislation.

While the DPP is seeking to have the Civil Code revised to give all forms of marriage equal status, its legislative caucus leader, Legislator Ker Chien-ming, has called for the introduction of a special provision for same-sex marriage - a law the pro-gay rights camp sees as yet another form of discrimination.

Before the start of the concert, anti-gay rights groups held a press conference in Taipei, calling for a referendum on the same-sex marriage issue.

Shih Chun-yu, a Fu Jen Catholic University student and head of the Protection of Family Value Students Organisation, said many people who opposed same-sex marriage kept their feelings private out of fear of being bullied by gay rights activists. A referendum would let these people express their views, Shih said.

The anti-gay rights camp last Saturday held demonstrations in Northern, Central and Southern Taiwan to protest the same-sex marriage bills, arguing that the draft amendments to the Civil Code were contrary to traditional family values.