In a first for Asia, Taiwan's Constitutional Court ruled in favour of same-sex marriage on Wednesday, punctuating a years-long campaign by advocates for LGBTQ rights in one of the continent's most liberal democracies.
The court's decision has cleared the way for giving same-sex couples the right to marry. In its majority opinion, the court said a provision in the current civil code barring same-sex marriages violates two articles of the constitution safeguarding human dignity and equality under the law. Authorities must now either enact or amend relevant laws within two years.
The ruling was greeted with rapturous applause outside the legislature not far from the court in the centre of the capital, Taipei, where hundreds had gathered with rainbow flags and noisemakers emblazoned with slogans in favour of same-sex marriage.
"People like me in the position of being in same-sex relationship with children, we need this law even earlier, even faster," said Jay Lin, a father of two and the founder and director of the Taiwan International Queer Film Festival.
"And so everybody here and everybody who (is) supporting this law in Taiwan and throughout the world, all be rooting for us. And we will be giving a lot of pressure to the legislators to pass this law once and for all," Lin said.
Jamie, who has been in a relationship with his partner for 22 years, said the ruling was a milestone for Taiwanese society.
"I am so touched. Finally we've reached this moment. This represents Taiwan's human rights. This is a step forward in human rights," said the 60-year-old retiree, who asked that only his first name be used.
A bill to enforce the ruling is already working its way through the legislature, where both the ruling and major opposition parties support legalisation of same-sex marriage. Surveys show a majority of the public is also in favour, as is President Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan's first female leader.
LGBTQ advocates in Taiwan have formed an effective lobby in recent years, with an annual Gay Pride march drawing tens of thousands. "The need, capability, willingness and longing, in both physical and psychological senses, for creating such permanent unions of intimate and exclusive nature are equally essential to homosexuals and heterosexuals, given the importance of the freedom of marriage to the sound development of personality and safeguarding of human dignity," the court said in its ruling.
Two of the court's 15 justices filed dissenting opinions and one recused himself in the case.
Despite the spread of same-sex marriage in a few regions since 2001, LGBTQ couples had been allowed to marry in only 22 of the world's nearly 200 countries. In Asia, Taiwan is the first government to legalise such unions, while South Africa is the only country in Africa to allow them. More than 70 countries continue to criminalise homosexual activity.
Globally, the pace of civil rights victories has slowed against the background of a steady stream of reports of anti-LGBTQ violence and persecution.