Taiwan's same-sex marriage vote divides families

TAIPEI, Nov 23 (Reuters) - On a sunny day in a park in Taipei, photographer Austin Haung advises a same-sex couple on how to pose for a pre-wedding photo shoot. For him, Taiwan's reputation as a beacon of liberalism in the region means a thriving business.

"Our clients are mostly same-sex couples from overseas, including Hong Kong, Singapore, China and Malaysia," said 32-year-old Haung, who hopes to turn his side job into a full-time business targeting homosexual newlyweds from across the region.

"They said Taiwan is a reassuring place to do the shoot...If they do this in their own country, they worry about being identified or people raising eyebrows," he said. 

In Asia's first such ruling, Taiwan's constitutional court declared in May last year that same-sex couples had the right to legally marry, and set a two-year deadline for legalization.

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Taiwan's same-sex marriage vote divides families
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Taiwan's same-sex marriage vote divides families

John Sugden (R) and Kao Shaochun look at each other during their pre-wedding photoshoot by Hiwow studio in Taipei, Taiwan, November 11, 2018. Lin Chinxuan and Austin Haung are a couple and together they run Hiwow studio photographing LGBTQ couples.

(REUTERS/Ann Wang)

John Sugden and Kao Shaochun have their pre-wedding photos taken by Austin Haung, 32, as Lin Chinxuan (R), 29, stands by, in Taipei, Taiwan, November 11, 2018. "Our clients are mostly same-sex couples from overseas, including Hong Kong, Singapore, China and Malaysia," said Haung, who hopes to turn his side job into a full-time business targeting homosexual newlyweds from across the region. "They said Taiwan is a reassuring place to do the shoot...If they do this in their own country, they worry about being identified or people raising eyebrows," he said. 

(REUTERS/Ann Wang)

A room inside Hans Men's Sauna, a sauna largely for gay men, is seen in Taipei, Taiwan, November 14, 2018. Located in an alley at the heart of Taipei with rainbow flags leading up to the staircases, the owner of a decades-old bathhouse for men said his business is now often packed and receives many customers from overseas. "I'm not too worried about my business," said Yu Nanxian. "Once a gay man, you will always be a gay man, no matter the result of the referendum." 

(REUTERS/Ann Wang)

Lin Chinxuan (R), 29, holds a reflector as Austin Haung, 32, photographs Kao Shaochun (L) and John Sugden during their pre-wedding photoshoot in Taipei, Taiwan, November 11, 2018. Lin Chinxuan and Austin Haung are a couple and together they run Hiwow studio photographing LGBTQ couples. "Our clients are mostly same-sex couples from overseas, including Hong Kong, Singapore, China and Malaysia," said Haung, who hopes to turn his side job into a full-time business targeting homosexual newlyweds from across the region. "They said Taiwan is a reassuring place to do the shoot...If they do this in their own country, they worry about being identified or people raising eyebrows," he said. 

(REUTERS/Ann Wang)

Yu Nanxian, 66, the owner of Hans Men's Sauna, poses for a photograph at the sauna, in Taipei, Taiwan, November 14, 2018. Located in an alley at the heart of Taipei with rainbow flags leading up to the staircases, the owner of a decades-old bathhouse for men said his business is now often packed and receives many customers from overseas. "I'm not too worried about my business," said Nanxian. "Once a gay man, you will always be a gay man, no matter the result of the referendum." Nanxian hid his sexual orientation for 15 years while he was married to a woman. After the divorce, he and some friends started the sauna. 

(REUTERS/Ann Wang)

Yu Nanxian, 66, the owner of Hans Men's Sauna, checks the shower room at the sauna, in Taipei, Taiwan, November 14, 2018. Located in an alley at the heart of Taipei with rainbow flags leading up to the staircases, the owner of a decades-old bathhouse for men said his business is now often packed and receives many customers from overseas. "I'm not too worried about my business," said Nanxian. "Once a gay man, you will always be a gay man, no matter the result of the referendum." Nanxian hid his sexual orientation for 15 years while he was married to a woman. After the divorce, he and some friends started the sauna. 

(REUTERS/Ann Wang)

Lin Chinxuan (L), 29, holds Austin Haung's, 32, face to demonstrate for their clients during a pre-wedding photoshoot in Taipei, Taiwan, November 11, 2018. Lin Chinxuan and Austin Haung are a couple and together they run Hiwow studio photographing LGBTQ couples. "Our clients are mostly same-sex couples from overseas, including Hong Kong, Singapore, China and Malaysia," said Haung, who hopes to turn his side job into a full-time business targeting homosexual newlyweds from across the region. "They said Taiwan is a reassuring place to do the shoot...If they do this in their own country, they worry about being identified or people raising eyebrows," he said. 

(REUTERS/Ann Wang)

Yu Nanxian, 66, the owner of Hans Men's Sauna, stands in the laundry room of his sauna in Taipei, Taiwan, November 14, 2018. Located in an alley at the heart of Taipei with rainbow flags leading up to the staircases, the owner of a decades-old bathhouse for men said his business is now often packed and receives many customers from overseas. "I'm not too worried about my business," said Nanxian. "Once a gay man, you will always be a gay man, no matter the result of the referendum." Nanxian hid his sexual orientation for 15 years while he was married to a woman. After the divorce, he and some friends started the sauna. 

(REUTERS/Ann Wang)

A bathroom inside Hans Men's Sauna, a sauna largely for gay men, is seen in Taipei, Taiwan, November 14, 2018. Located in an alley at the heart of Taipei with rainbow flags leading up to the staircases, the owner of a decades-old bathhouse for men said his business is now often packed and receives many customers from overseas. "I'm not too worried about my business," said Yu Nanxian. "Once a gay man, you will always be a gay man, no matter the result of the referendum." 

(REUTERS/Ann Wang)

Lin Chinxuan (R), 29, holds a reflector to provide a shade for Austin Haung, 32, during a photoshoot in Taipei, Taiwan, November 11, 2018. Lin Chinxuan and Austin Haung are a couple and together they run Hiwow studio photographing LGBTQ couples. "Our clients are mostly same-sex couples from overseas, including Hong Kong, Singapore, China and Malaysia," said Haung, who hopes to turn his side job into a full-time business targeting homosexual newlyweds from across the region. "They said Taiwan is a reassuring place to do the shoot...If they do this in their own country, they worry about being identified or people raising eyebrows," he said. 

(REUTERS/Ann Wang)

Photographs taken by Austin Haung, sit on a shelf in his studio in Taipei, Taiwan, November 11, 2018. Austin and his boyfriend Lin Chinxuan run Hiwow studio photographing LGBTQ couples. 

(REUTERS/Ann Wang)

John Sugden and Kao Shaochun have their pre-wedding photos taken by Austin Haung, 32, as Lin Chinxuan (R), 29, stands by, in Taipei, Taiwan, November 11, 2018. "Our clients are mostly same-sex couples from overseas, including Hong Kong, Singapore, China and Malaysia," said Haung, who hopes to turn his side job into a full-time business targeting homosexual newlyweds from across the region. "They said Taiwan is a reassuring place to do the shoot...If they do this in their own country, they worry about being identified or people raising eyebrows," he said. 

(REUTERS/Ann Wang)

John Sugden (L) looks at Kao Shaochun (2nd L), as he changes an outfit before their pre-wedding photoshoot by Austin Haung (R), 32, in Taipei, Taiwan, November 11, 2018. Austin and his boyfriend Lin Chinxuan run Hiwow studio photographing LGBTQ couples. "Our clients are mostly same-sex couples from overseas, including Hong Kong, Singapore, China and Malaysia," said Haung, who hopes to turn his side job into a full-time business targeting homosexual newlyweds from across the region. "They said Taiwan is a reassuring place to do the shoot...If they do this in their own country, they worry about being identified or people raising eyebrows," he said. 

(REUTERS/Ann Wang)

Winson Lo, 44, the owner of T-Kingdom, a company that makes chest binders, cuts fabric to make chest binders at her studio in Taipei, Taiwan, November 15, 2018. "There was a lot of discrimination towards LGBT community growing up, but it's different now, people are more accepting," Lo said. "I started binding my chest during high school. In those days, we could only use bandages, but some friends of mine who wanted it tighter would use tape. Using tape can hurt a lot, it's not comfortable and can smell bad. Because of my need for one, I started looking into chest binders and eventually started my own chest binder company." 

(REUTERS/Ann Wang)

Austin Haung, 32, edits photographs at his studio in Taipei, Taiwan, November 11, 2018. Austin and his boyfriend Lin Chinxuan run Hiwow studio photographing LGBTQ couples. "Our clients are mostly same-sex couples from overseas, including Hong Kong, Singapore, China and Malaysia," said Haung, who hopes to turn his side job into a full-time business targeting homosexual newlyweds from across the region. "They said Taiwan is a reassuring place to do the shoot...If they do this in their own country, they worry about being identified or people raising eyebrows," he said. 

(REUTERS/Ann Wang)

Lin Chinxuan (L), 29, feeds Austin Haung, 32, a dessert in Taipei, Taiwan, November 11, 2018. Lin Chinxuan and Austin Haung are a couple and together they run Hiwow studio photographing LGBTQ couples. "Our clients are mostly same-sex couples from overseas, including Hong Kong, Singapore, China and Malaysia," said Haung, who hopes to turn his side job into a full-time business targeting homosexual newlyweds from across the region. "They said Taiwan is a reassuring place to do the shoot...If they do this in their own country, they worry about being identified or people raising eyebrows," he said. 

(REUTERS/Ann Wang)

Leong Guzifer (L), 30, and Ting Tseyen, 27, prepare to bake scones in the kitchen of Shin's Jam & Pastry Collection, which they run together, in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, November 17, 2018. Leong and Ting are an openly-gay couple and are planning to get married in May next year. They started Shin's Jam & Pastry Collection together over a year ago making rainbow colored jams and scones. 

(REUTERS/Ann Wang)

Leong Guzifer (L), 30, and Ting Tseyen, 27, take part in a rally to support the upcoming same-sex marriage referendum, in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, November 18, 2018. Leong and Ting are an openly-gay couple and are planning to get married in May next year. They started Shin's Jam & Pastry Collection together over a year ago making rainbow colored jams and scones.

(REUTERS/Ann Wang)

Winson Lo, 44, the owner of T-Kingdom, a company that makes chest binders, fits her client with a chest binder in Taipei, Taiwan, November 15, 2018. "There was a lot of discrimination towards LGBT community growing up, but it's different now, people are more accepting," Lo said. "I started binding my chest during high school. In those days, we could only use bandages, but some friends of mine who wanted it tighter would use tape. Using tape can hurt a lot, it's not comfortable and can smell bad. Because of my need for one, I started looking into chest binders and eventually started my own chest binder company." 

(REUTERS/Ann Wang)

Yang Pingjing, 45, one of the owners of Gin Gin bookshop, a hub for LGBT rights activists, poses for a photograph in Taipei, Taiwan, November 16, 2018. The bookshop sells homosexual literature, as well as sex toys, chest binders and souvenirs. It was raided by police in 2003 and 500 magazines seized. "We have fought a long fight and now have loyal customers coming to our shop at least once a year from all over the world," said Pingjing. 

(REUTERS/Ann Wang)

Books lie on shelves at Gin Gin bookshop, a hub for LGBT rights activists, in Taipei, Taiwan, November 16, 2018. The bookshop sells homosexual literature, as well as sex toys, chest binders and souvenirs. It was raided by police in 2003 and 500 magazines seized. "We have fought a long fight and now have loyal customers coming to our shop at least once a year from all over the world," said Yang Pingjing, one of the bookshop's owners. 

(REUTERS/Ann Wang)

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On Saturday, Taiwan will hold a series of public votes on whether its civil law should now recognize same-sex marriage, after its election authority approved contradicting referendum petitions from both conservative and rights groups.

The issue has divided Taiwan, at family dining room tables, online and on the streets, with large-scale rallies.

Haung, who is gay, plans to vote for same-sex marriage, but his mother Zeng, in her early 60s, staunchly objects. In fact, she has rallied relatives and friends to support the opposing referendum that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

"There's no need to protect gay marriage. If so, there will be more homosexuals in society," she said. "The younger generation has their own ideas, but I disagree regardless of what they say."

Rights activists say the conservative referendum is "discriminatory" as it goes against a 2017 court ruling that current laws violate the right to freedom of marriage and equality.

The heated debate over whether to legalize same-sex marriage presents a challenge to President Tsai Ing-wen, who rights activists say has backed away from her promise of marriage equality in the run-up to elections in 2016.

The same-sex marriage votes coincides with Taiwan's mayoral and magisterial elections, a test of confidence for Tsai's government grappling with domestic reforms as well as rising pressure from China, which considers the island its own.

"I hope Tsai Ing-wen could undertake the leadership responsibility. The issue has been delayed for so long due to a lack of policy direction from the ruling party," said Jennifer Lu, co-ordinator of the Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan.

"The government should protect the rights of marriage for all Taiwanese."

Taiwan's capital Taipei has a celebrated annual gay pride parade that showcases the vibrancy of its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. The one-week celebration in October, largest in the region, contributed more than $3.3 million to the economy, according to daily Taipei Times.

LGBT-related businesses are thriving in Taiwan where liberal attitude has earned it a reputation as Asia's "gay capital."

A hub for LGBT rights activists is the Gin Gin bookshop, which was raided by police in 2003 and 500 magazines seized.

"We have fought a long fight and now have loyal customers coming to our shop at least once a year from all over the world," said Yang Pingjing, one of the bookshop's owners.

Located in an alley at the heart of Taipei with rainbow flags leading up to the staircases, the owner of a decades-old bathhouse for men said his business is now often packed and receives many customers from overseas.

"I'm not too worried about my business," said Yu Nanxian, owner of 24-hour Hans Men's Sauna. "Once a gay man, you will always be a gay man, no matter the result of the referendum."

(Reporting by Ann Wang and Yimou Lee; Editing by Michael Perry)

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