Hundreds gather in Taiwan to support gay marriage bill

TAIPEI - More than 1,200 Taiwanese people joined a mock "wedding banquet" on Saturday aiming to drum up support for a same-sex marriage Bill due to be sent to Parliament soon, organisers said.

Participants sat around tables decorated with red cloths printed with the Chinese character for "wedding", as they had dinner and watched a video recording of local celebrities showing support as well as live performances in a makeshift banquet venue in a square outside the presidential office in Taipei.

"This looks likes a traditional wedding scene and even if it's not real, I think a picture is worth a thousand words and I hope we will get more public attention and support for same-sex marriages," said Mr Richard Chen, a 22-year-old student from Taipei.

The event was aimed at building momentum for a Bill on legalising same-sex marriage and civil partnership drafted by the advocacy group Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights, set to be submitted to Parliament when its next session begins in mid-September, the alliance said.

"We organised the event in the form of a wedding banquet in the hope that everyone regardless of his or her sexual orientation can have equal rights to get married and have families," said Ms Severia Lu, a spokesman for the alliance.

"We are optimistic about the bill as public support in Taiwan is growing while there is also a global trend to recognise same-sex marriages after France, Britain and New Zealand enacted such laws."

Gay and lesbian groups in Taiwan, one of Asia's more liberal societies, have been urging the government for years to make same-sex unions legal.

Last year, more than 50,000 gays and lesbians and their supporters marched in Taiwan to push for legalising same-sex marriage as the island marked its 10th annual Gay Pride event.

However, the campaign suffered a setback in January when Mr Chen Ching-hsueh and partner Mr Kao Chih-wei dropped their appeal to an administrative court against a government agency which had rejected their marriage registration in 2011.

Mr Chen said he had "lost his faith in the judiciary" but added that death threats to him and his parents via Facebook had been among factors prompting him to abandon the appeal.

"I think there is still a difficult road ahead of us because there is not enough public consensus on the issue of same-sex marriages. I think we have to wait for one or two years for the bill to be passed," said participant Ms Ruby Tsai, a 24-year-old who works in retailing.