Wang Chen-wei and Chen Jun-ru are unique among Taiwanese parents.
This year, in a landmark legal case, the two men became the first same-sex couple on the island to legally adopt a child neither of them is related to.
Now they are living out their family dream with their 4-year-old daughter Joujou in the southern city of Kaohsiung, in an apartment decorated with rainbow flags and family photos. However, while her family life is happy, her victory in the hard-fought court is bittersweet.
While the court made an exception for the couple, the law they challenged remains in the statutes and continues to restrict the civil liberties of other same-sex couples, tarnishing, they say, the island’s reputation as one of Asia’s most progressive jurisdictions. when it comes. It’s about LGBTQ rights.
“We can’t be too happy about our victory, because many of our friends are still facing a lot of difficulties,” said Chen, 35. “Even after same-sex marriage was legalized, we don’t feel welcome to have children together as a family,” added Wang, 38. “They treated us like second-class citizens.”
While Taiwan became the first jurisdiction in the region to legalize same-sex marriage in 2019, the legal change stopped short of granting gay couples full adoption rights.
That has created a strange loophole in which heterosexual couples, and single people of all sexual orientations, can adopt children they are not biologically related to, but same-sex couples cannot. To this day, Wang and Chen remain the only same-sex married couple on the island to have done so.
Activists say this loophole shows that despite the strides Taiwan has made in recognizing LGBTQ rights, the island has a long way to go before same-sex couples have true equality.
The adoption loophole is not the only problem left over from 2019. The legal change also failed to give full recognition to transnational same-sex marriages; foreign spouses are only recognized if same-sex marriage is also legal in their home jurisdiction.
Freddy Lim, an independent member of parliament in Taiwan who advocates for LGBTQ rights, said the loophole arose because at the time the law was changed, society was still “facing a lot of opposition from anti-LGBTQ groups,” so the government focused “only on the legalization of marriage, but not the rights related to the adoption of children.”
However, Lim believes that since then attitudes have changed enough for the law to change again. In May, Lim and a bipartisan group of lawmakers proposed updating the law with a bill that he hopes can be passed by the end of the year.
“If a society treats people differently based on their sexual orientation, it must have a strong public interest reason. But there aren’t any, so it’s clearly a form of discrimination,” Lim said.
Any change cannot come too soon for Wang and Chen, who are hoping that their friends will be spared the ordeal they faced.
Wang and Chen, both teachers from southern Taiwan, had been dating for more than a decade when they began the adoption process in 2016. Wang applied on their behalf and a court confirmed their suitability in 2019, after rigorous checks by both. mens. by social workers.
Everything seemed to be ready for a happy family life.
“When same-sex marriage was legalized (a year later), we were hoping to raise a child together,” Chen recalled.
However, Chen was told that he would not be able to register as the girl’s legal father, even if the couple married. It was heartbreaking for Chen, who was prevented from performing the kind of parental duties that most families take for granted, such as signing his daughter’s school or bank papers.
“Every time we had to make applications for our daughter, I was afraid that they would ask me about my relationship with her. I have always been her father, but I was not recognized as a father,” Chen said.
In April last year, Wang and Chen, along with two other couples, filed petitions in a family court in Kaohsiung city. They hoped the case would be dismissed, thinking they could then appeal to Taiwan’s Supreme Court and ultimately force a change in the law.
However, to his surprise, in January the family court ruled in his favor on the grounds that it was in Joujou’s best interest to have both legal parents. The other two cases were dismissed.
“I was amazed, it was a miracle,” Chen said. “Until then, he had been living with my daughter, but was not related to her under the law.”
Wang said the ruling was significant for two reasons: It made it easier for the couple to take care of their daughter, and it also gave other couples like them hope.
“I feel relieved now,” Wang said. “We can both act as legal parents and share the burden. And if Joujou gets sick and has to visit a doctor, we are both legally eligible to take a leave of absence and take care of her.”
The problem is that the family court ruling extends only to Wang and Chen. Other same-sex couples in Taiwan still face an uphill struggle.
Jordan, an American woman, is fighting to register as the mother of her Taiwanese wife’s adopted son. She met his wife, Ray, six years ago, and Ray began the adoption process in 2018, before the couple married.
The couple asked CNN not to reveal their full names to protect the 7-year-old girl.
“At first, only my wife was adopting because I wasn’t really sure whether or not I wanted to be a parent at the time,” Jordan said. “But about a month after my daughter came home, she and I developed a very close relationship.”
Last April, Jordan filed her petition in family court at the same time as Wang and Chen. However, her case was dismissed.
“We want the same protection under the law,” he said. “If something happened to my wife, she has an autoimmune disease, with Covid coming, my daughter would not only lose her mom, but she would also lose me because they would take her away from me, since I am not able to adopt her,” she said. .
“We are a family, but it still seems that we are not a complete family. If it is a right that is given to straight people, it is important that we are treated exactly the same,” she added.
Jordan said that while Taiwan’s progressive reputation was boosted by the legalization of same-sex marriage, more efforts were needed to ensure equality for LGBTQ couples.
“Many people, even here in Taiwan, don’t realize that we still don’t have full equality,” he said.
“It really stopped us from celebrating everything we wanted to.”
Still, activists say there are reasons for optimism.
Joyce Teng, deputy executive director of the Taiwan Equality Campaign, said that since same-sex marriage was legalized three years ago, there has been a “higher level of acceptance and support” in society.
In its latest annual poll released last month, the campaign found that 67% of Taiwanese supported allowing LGBTQ couples to adopt children, an increase of 8% from the previous year.
Wang said he hopes the law can be changed as soon as possible so that other couples can enjoy the same rights as he and Chen.
“There are many families who are afraid to file petitions in court because they don’t want to attract the attention of society or the media,” Wang said. “If the law remains unchanged, many might be afraid to stand up for their rights.”
There’s also Taiwan’s reputation to think about, not only as an enlightened jurisdiction for LGBTQ rights, but also its image as a free and democratic beacon in the Asia-Pacific region.
“When the international community looks at Taiwan, we are often seen as the first line of defense against authoritarianism,” said lawmaker Lim.
“But if we really want to present ourselves as free, equal and democratic…then we need to acknowledge and address the injustices in our society, and LGBTQ rights are an important part of this.”