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Taiwan's gay newlyweds urge Asia to follow their lead

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Same-sex couples pose for a photo during celebrations on the first day of civil registration for same-sex marriage in Taipei, Taiwan, 24 May 2019. Taiwan became the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage after a bill was passed on the 17 May 2019.

[TAIPEI] As they celebrated tying the knot at an outdoor party, many of the first same-sex couples to marry in Taiwan on Friday urged Asian governments to follow their island's lead.

Taiwan's decision to legalise same-sex marriage was not without controversy and came after three decades of campaigning by activists against staunch conservative opposition.

It places the island at the forefront of the gay rights movement in Asia, a continent home to 60 per cent of the world's population but where the battle for marriage equality has struggled.

"I think this will have a ripple effect and influence other Asian countries, they will see that this is feasible, that it can be done in Taiwan," Chen Xue, a writer who married her long-term partner on Friday, told AFP in a Taipei park where newlyweds and their supporters had gathered to celebrate.

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"Even though there might be some unease in the short term, in the long term it will have positive influences on society," she added. "We are definitely setting up a positive example for other Asian countries."

Taiwan now finds itself among a handful of liberal democracies to have granted equal marriage rights.

Until last week only 26 nations had legalised same-sex marriage, sixteen in Europe, followed by seven in the Americas as well as South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

Twelve others have passed some form of civil union laws, while Israel recognises foreign same-sex marriages.

But in Asia, Taiwan currently stands alone.

Religious and conservative values remain entrenched in countries such as India, Indonesia and Malaysia.

In East Asia many conservative groups have pushed the idea that same-sex relationships clash with so-called traditional Asian or Chinese "values".

In China, communist authorities only removed homosexuality from a list of mental disorders in 2001 and the LGBT community faces routine discrimination. Gay rights groups have made little progress on marriage in Hong Kong and Singapore.

Many of those getting married in Taipei said Friday's weddings offered a vivid counter to the argument that gay rights had no place in the region.

"I want to tell people in other parts (of Asia) don't give up and keep on fighting," said Huan, a local celebrity YouTuber who goes by one name, and who married her partner on Friday. "The victory will come in the end."

Lin Meng-huan, a 32-year-old screenwriter, married his partner Chou Chung-peng, an actor.

"I hope that Taiwan is the beginning of gay rights movement in Asia, not the end, and everybody has to keep fighting," said Lin.

"I didn't expect Taiwan would be the first in Asia," added Chou. "I hope this love can gradually expand to drive other marriage equality movements in Asia."

Taiwan's breakthrough came in 2017 when the island's top court ruled that denying same-sex couples the same marriage rights as heterosexuals breached the constitution.

The court gave politicians two years to change the law with parliament only just making the deadline.

But popular opinion remains wary.

In November conservative and religious lobbies won a series of referendums, with a large majority of voters opposed to granting marriage rights to same-sex couples.

Taiwan's current President Tsai Ing-wen and her ruling party members may find themselves punished at the ballot box next January for supporting the law changes.

AFP