Funeral-inspired wedding symbolizes struggle of lesbian couple

2019/05/17 21:05:02 fontsize-small fontsize-default fontsize-big
Lesbian couple Wang Yu-jhen (left) and Chu Pei-yi

Lesbian couple Wang Yu-jhen (left) and Chu Pei-yi

[Editor's note: Taiwan's Legislature became the first in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage following a vote on May 17. CNA recently interviewed three same-sex couples who have faced different ordeals leading to this day. This is the story of the second couple.]

By Lee Hsin-Yin, CNA staff reporter

The first wedding between Wang Yu-jhen and Chu Pei-yi, a lesbian couple who have been together for 22 years, was inspired by a funeral.

While the ceremony in 2012 was a mere formality because same-sex marriages in Taiwan had yet to be legalized, Wang said it meant a lot to them, particularly after the sudden death of Chu's brother the previous year when he fell while cleaning the exterior of a new building.

"It was a shock to realize that a person could vanish just like that after an accident, leaving survivors with so much unsaid," Wang said. "We wanted to make a commitment to each other, no matter how bizarre the wedding may have appeared."

The couple said they also wanted to take the opportunity to come out after undergoing tremendous emotional stress throughout the tragedy, as they had to hide their relationship and be apart from each other.

It was extremely painful to be kept at a distance at the scene of the accident, the hospital and the funeral house and seeing her loved one suffer without being able to comfort her, Wang said.

"I was not a family member and not in a position to help," she realized.

(Wang, left)

At the funeral, she was not called on as part of any group -- family, colleagues, friends, etc. -- to pay respects to Chu's brother.

It was only when the host asked if anyone was left out that she moved to the front to perform the ritual bows.

"I didn't expect that there would be no place for me," Wang said, tears in her eyes.

"I felt like I owed her so much," said Chu, who proposed to Wang at a 1,000-person gathering of the Taiwan Tongzhi (LGBT) Hotline Association, where they both work as volunteers.

Family recognition

While family members of Wang and Chu, who are both in their late 30s, were reluctant to support them, the couple said they could feel a sense of recognition -- subtle though it may have been.

"Mom asked me if I had prepared bridal cakes and made an excuse to give me gold ornaments as a gift," Chu recalled, though in the end her mother did not attend the ceremony.

Her father also was not there and even opposed it, calling it "a shame," though he was friendly toward Wang during the time after the funeral.

"What we were asking for from our parents at the wedding was their willingness to understand us -- every part of us," said Wang, whose mother, brother and sister were in attendance, while her father had died before learning that his daughter and Chu planned to wed.

The couple continued looking for different ways to formally cement their relationship, including getting married in 2014 in Canada, where same-sex marriages are legally recognized nationwide.

In 2015, Wang and Chu registered their partnership in New Taipei, the most they could do in Taiwan to obtain rights that at least approached what heterosexual couples enjoy.

Defending rights

Registering their partnership allowed them to apply for family leave when their partner was ill and apply for passports on behalf of their partner, according to information posted on the Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights website.

But without a national law guaranteeing their rights as a couple, their lives remained in limbo.

The prospects of Wang and Chu and Taiwan's other same-sex couples improved when Taiwan's Constitutional Court ruled on May 24, 2017, that the prohibition of same-sex marriage is unconstitutional and that the relevant authorities must amend or enact laws in accordance with the court's interpretation within two years.

That requirement came to fruition on May 17, when Taiwan's Legislature voted to pass a bill to legalize same-sex marriage, making Taiwan the first country in Asia to do so.

Passage of the bill, which is set to take effect on May 24, left Wang and Chu excited and anticipating a brighter future.

(Chu, left)

"I feel that I'll have more peace of mind about our relationship and the plans we have made based on a lifelong commitment," Wang said.

"There is still much effort needed to be made for gay rights, but at least with this, we have seen a huge step forward," she said, explaining that having the same rights as heterosexual couples is a game-changer for them.

Counting on the law

"We never have thought we needed a marriage certificate or that sort of thing to prove our love, but without the law, we don't have even the slightest human rights to protect our relationship," Wang said, adding that they are particularly conscious of the issue because they both work in the medical field.

Wang said she felt frustrated, for instance, at being unable to name Chu as her beneficiary based on any kind of standard relationship on her insurance policy.

"I managed to do it only by making her my creditor so that if I died, she could get a share of my property," Wang said.

With recognition from the law, Wang said, she hoped that more people will realize that people who are gay deserve respect.

Change of attitude

"It's OK that people don't like us, but we don't accept insults," Chu said.

She hopes that once same-sex marriage gains legal status, people will get used to the change as being the right thing to do and learn to appreciate differences among one another.

Asked what their plan is after they register their marriage, Wang said that while life will continue the same as before, she and Chu will be able to look ahead and think about and prepare for their future together.

"Making life plans, maybe having a kid," Wang said. "I hope that when my mother sees us listed as each other's spouse on our ID cards, she will understand our struggle and know how much a real marriage means to us."


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