Taiwan has voted overwhelmingly against legalising same-sex marriage in a referendum held over the weekend.

Advocates were hopeful that Taiwan could become the first Asian country to back the move, with the rejection of the ballot by more than two-thirds of voters proving a significant setback, The Guardian reported.

The country’s highest court ruled in 2017 that prohibiting same-sex couples from tying the knot is unconstitutional, giving legislators two years to amend the law.

The vote on Saturday was considered an advisory ballot, without direct legal application, but advocates say that the vocal public opposition will put pressure on lawmakers ahead of the court’s deadline in May 2019, with many of them standing for re-election the following year.

Another measure brought forward by anti-LGBTI campaigners to stop LGBTI issues being addressed in schools was supported.

“This result is a bitter blow and a step backwards for human rights in Taiwan,” said Amnesty International’s Annie Huang.

“However, despite this setback, we remain confident that love and equality will ultimately prevail.”

Ahead of the referendum, a spokesperson for Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice said that courts will still consider marriage-licensing offices to be violating the law if they refuse same-sex couples.

Writing for the Star Observer in September, Alex Greenwich said that the movement against legalising same-sex marriage in Taiwan had been especially vicious.

“We know from our own experience just how distressing the misinformation put forward during these campaigns can be,” Greenwich wrote.

“Already in Taiwan opponents are using the same tactics but much darker.

“We have heard of full, front-page adverts across national newspapers attacking Taiwan’s LGBTI community and their families.”

Marriage equality activists in Taiwan say they are considering mounting legal action to challenge the result.

“We’re disappointed but not surprised with the result due to the misinformation that was spread by our opponents against LGBT people in the run-up to the vote,” the Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan’s Jennifer Lu said.

“We’re studying complaints related to Saturday’s voting and we would use that to consider our next step…including possible legal action.”

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