Two women will hold the first Buddhist wedding for gay couples next month as part of an effort to push for the legalization of same-sex marriage in Taiwan.
"We are not only doing it for ourselves but also for other gays and lesbians," Fish Huang told CNA.
The 30-year-old social worker at a non-governmental organization said that marriage never crossed her mind until she saw a movie last year. The film portrayed two lesbians whose ill-fated relationship concluded when one died and the other was left heartbroken over the denial of spousal benefits.
Huang said plans to wed her partner of seven years on August 11 at a Buddhist altar in Taoyuan county in northern Taiwan. Both brides will wear white wedding gowns and listen to lectures given by Buddhist masters about marriage, accompanied by a series of chanting and blessings from monks and nuns.
Although same-sex marriages are not legally recognized in Taiwan, Huang insisted on tying the knot because she wants to make her relationship complete and raise awareness about the adversities faced by people of non-heterosexual orientation.
Non-traditional forms of marriage have yet to receive wide acceptance by the general public in the country, despite years of effort by activists to secure equality.
The first public gay marriage in Taiwan took place in 1996 between a local writer and his foreign partner. The event drew widespread media attention and inspired many gay people to follow in his footsteps. But Huang's wedding will be the first with a Buddhist theme.
While planning for her wedding, Huang found out to her surprise that some of her Buddhist friends were hesitant about attending the ceremony. "They are not sure if it would break their vows and expressed anxiety," Huang said.
She messaged a Buddhist master on Facebook, asking her if she could find grounds in the religion for condemning the practice of homosexuality.
To Huang's surprise, the master quickly replied that Buddhism shows no bias regarding homosexuality. In a demonstration of support, the master is willing to host a ceremony for the couple — the first public same-sex Buddhist wedding in Taiwan.
"It is meaningful to us that our wedding can give hope to other homosexuals and help heterosexuals understand how Buddhism views sexuality," said Huang.
The Buddhist master Shih Chao-hwei, who is also a professor at Hsuan Chuang University, said Buddhist teachings do not prohibit homosexual behavior. Compared to western religions, Buddhism on the whole is more tolerant toward homosexuality because there is no concrete rule banning the practice in Buddhist scriptures, Shih said.
"It's difficult enough to maintain a relationship...how could you be so stingy as to begrudge a couple for wanting to get married, regardless of their sexual orientation," she said.
But Shih recognized there is disagreement on the issue both within and outside the Buddhist circle. Shih noted that Huang and her partner could face criticism. "The first step is always the hardest," Shih said.
Shih Chao-hwei 釋昭慧
Hsuan Chuang University 玄奘大學