Legislation due to be introduced yesterday that would have recognised same-sex couples in Taiwan has been delayed because of what one activist sees as a possible backlash in the run-up to next year’s presidential elections.

James Chan Ming-chou, founding director of the Taiwan Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Association (TGLHRA), told Sydney Star Observer he had been informed by the office of President Chen Shui-bian that it has had to delay the human rights bill and it won’t be announced until next year.

The Human Rights Basic Law was expected to be presented to the Legislative Yuan on 10 December to coincide with World Human Rights Day. The proposed law was to have included recognition of same-sex families and access to adoption, as well as abolition of the death penalty.

If the human rights law is approved by the legislature, Taiwan, an island nation off the coast of mainland China and with a population of 22.5 million, would be the first in Asia to recognise gay and lesbian couples.

Chan said he had been told by the presidential office that there had been some obstacles, but the TGLHRA believes the bill was deemed too sensitive to put forward due to political inroads made by the conservative Kuomin-tang (KMT) and the threat to President Chen’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which faces elections on 20 March next year.

The presidential office is afraid of pressure from the straight community because of the presidential elections, Chan said.

President Chen was on his way to New York to receive the 2003 Human Rights Award from the International League for Human Rights when he announced the long-awaited bill.

He was getting this big award and needed to say something positive, Chan said in a telephone interview with the Star.

Chan said the proposed bill appears to have encountered obstacles during cabinet review and had been shelved, possibly until March next year, but probably until after the elections.

I am neither surprised nor angry, Chan said. The government is really very conservative on the gay and lesbian issue, and some might say a bit homophobic.

Chan said the human rights law was nowhere near completion and he was unaware of any input from Taiwan’s gay and lesbian community on what they want in such a law. We have never been contacted, and I don’t know if anyone else has been asked to contribute either, he said.

But even when they talked about this issue, the government itself said it was just a proposal, a plan, and not a reality.

Chan said the TGLHRA would attempt to find out from the presidential office what the government’s next step will be, but meanwhile would continue to try to mobilise Taiwan’s tongzhi community to step up pressure on the administration.

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