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Chen eyes abolishing death penalty, legalising gay marriage

September 8, 2003

TAIPEI — Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian said on Sunday he is considering abolishing the death penalty and legalizing marriage between homosexuals.

"We want to achieve our goal of building the country on the basis of human rights, and the government is drafting the Human Rights Basic Law," Chen said at a meeting celebrating Lawyers' Day.

"The Human Rights Consultative Committee under the Presidential Office has a very advanced human rights basic law, which includes replacing the death penalty with life sentences without parole, and legalizing homosexual marriage," Chen said in his speech.

"I want to thank our lawyers for their effort and their valuable suggestions ... and hope Taiwan can formulate a legal code that meets international standards," he said.

Since becoming president in 2000, Chen - previously a lawyer defending political dissidents during Taiwan's martial law years - has vowed to improve his country's human rights record, and appointed Vice President Lu Hsiu-lien to head the Human Rights Consultative Committee under the Presidential Office.

But it is not clear when the Human Rights Basic Law will be implemented.

Taiwan gay rights activists welcomed Chen's support for legalizing gay marriage, but said they hoped it is not an empty slogan.

"The government has announced its plan to legalize gay marriage several times, but again we express support for President Chen and hope the new law can be implemented soon," Chen Ping, secretary- general of the Gender/Sexuality Association of Taiwan, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA.

Hsu You-sheng, a Taiwan writer, sexologist and gay rights activist, also welcomed Chen's announcement.

"Homosexual couples fulfil all the duties of citizens but are denied the rights enjoyed by heterosexual couples. This is unfair," he told dpa by phone.

"If Taiwan legalizes gay marriages, it will make Taiwan the most open society in Asia, and that will be an indicator of the improvement of human rights in Taiwan," he said.

Hsu, 42, married his American lover in 1993 in the first public gay wedding in Taiwan. But because their union is not officially recognized by Taiwan or the U.S., he must visit America on a tourist or student visa to live for a few months with his partner.

His partner must also enter Taiwan as a tourist or English teacher in order to be together.

Taiwan's constitution states marriage is between a man and a woman, so the parliament would have to amend it if it wants to launch the Human Rights Basic Law and legalize gay marriage.

In 2000, President Chen received two U.S. gay rights activists attending the annual Taipei Gay Carnival, and told them homosexuals must fight for their rights.

Taiwan has one gay bookstore, one gay publishing house and dozens of gay rights organizations.

But Taiwan gays still complain about discrimination in schools and jobs, and occasional police raids on gay bars and saunas. –Sapa-DPA

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