Taiwan and gay marriage: Can journalists face the fact that there are two sides to the story?

Taiwan, as of this past week, is poised to allow same-sex marriage, the first country in Asia to do so. This has gotten all sorts of cheering from various mainstream media outlets. The reason why the writers of this blog care about this issue is that the opposition to such measures tend to be from the religious community. And those folks aren’t being heard from.

There’s a lot at stake with Taiwan accepting gay marriage, as Taiwan is seen as the gateway to the rest of eastern Asia. Why else do you think McDonalds floated a TV ad showing a Chinese son coming out to his father? Anyone who thinks the religious community are the only folks in Taiwan thinking about family values must be asleep at the wheel. That McDonald’s ad focuses on a most revered family building block in Asia: The tie between father and son. 

So when the world’s largest hamburger chain gets into the act, you know the stakes are high for the cultural powers that be. Tmatt has written before about Taiwan coverage that gives one side of the argument, briefly mentions the opposition from the country’s tiny Christian community but doesn’t mention what the vastly larger contingents of Taoists and Buddhists on the island are saying about it. More on that in a bit.

Also, there actually are some good religion angles on this issue, despite the reluctance among some American media in covering them. For instance, the Hong Kong-based Sunday Examiner has written on the divisions among Taiwan’s Christian groups over how to battle gay marriage. On May 24, Taiwan’s highest court ruled that laws prohibiting same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. We’ll pick up with what the New York Times said next:

TAIPEI, Taiwan — In a ruling that paves the way for Taiwan to become the first place in Asia to recognize same-sex marriage, the constitutional court on Wednesday struck down the Civil Code’s definition of marriage as being only between a man and a woman. ...
When the ruling was announced, cheers broke out among the hundreds of supporters who had gathered outside the legislature, monitoring developments on a big-screen television.
“Everyone is very happy,” said Woody Wang, president of Taiwan LGBT Family Rights Advocacy. “We don’t want to see the legislature dither on this.”

I read through the entire piece but not one dissenting voice was quoted.

None, other than to mention that the bill had “strong opposition from conservative groups and churches in central and southern Taiwan.”

NPR mentioned the opposition, by quoting another newspaper:

The issue of same-sex marriage has been a source of contention for decades in Taiwan. The key plaintiff, Chi Chia-wei (sometimes written as Qi Jia-wei), has fought for gay rights since the 1980s and first sought a marriage license 16 years ago, Focus Taiwan reports.
Critics of legalization voiced their opposition to Wednesday's ruling, as Taiwan News reports:
"Groups opposing same-sex marriage, including Coalition for the Happiness of Our Next Generation, protested outside the Judicial Yuan after the result came out. Some requested the invalidation of the interpretation and the president to step down."

I left my job at the Washington Times seven years ago this week, but while I was there, we weren’t allowed to lazily quote other newspapers. We were expected to get fresh quotes from the source or at least quote from the group’s own web site rather than another newspaper. Media outlets can –- and do -- get stuff wrong.

As I scoured other media, I found the religious element rarely mentioned, other than in this CBN broadcast and by Voice of America, which reported in part:

But elsewhere in Asia, one-party governments, in places such as China, are unlikely to follow Taiwan. They restrict activism such as the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender movements that would start marriage equality campaigns.
Japan lacks a multicultural element in its democracy, while South Korea’s Christian population would oppose same-sex marriage, said Jens Damm, associate professor in the Graduate Institute of Taiwan Studies at Chang Jung University in Taiwan.
Teachings of Islam would stop Indonesia, Malaysia and countries in the Middle East from considering same-sex marriage, experts believe. In the mostly Catholic Philippines, the president has said he’s opposed.
Vietnam abolished a ban on marriage equality but “stopped short of recognizing these marriages,” Washington-based advocacy group HRC Global said.
“Conservative religious doctrines and social mores” often impede same-sex marriage legislation in Asia, HRC Global deputy director Jean Freedberg said.

The Economist theorized that Taoism and Buddhism have less problem with homosexuality than do other religions. Any quotes and sources to back that up?

The only outlet I saw that even tried to gauge what other religious groups thought of Taiwan’s actions was the Christian Science Monitor:

But visible opposition to same-sex marriage picked up in December, with a demonstration in central Taipei that organizers claimed drew 30,000 people. Only about 5 percent of Taiwanese are Christian, and much larger percentages identify with Taoism or Buddhism, which have few explicit prohibitions against homosexuality. Church groups, however, have merged with those promoting traditional Chinese family values, which they say favor households headed by one man and one woman, to build resistance.
“The overall aim is to destroy marriage as we know it,” says Joanna Lei, a former legislator and the chief executive officer of the Chunghua 21st Century think tank in Taiwan. “Some places are waiting for Taiwan to set the example. If Taiwan falls, then the rest of Asia will fall.”

I know that for many outlets, the law of Kellerism applies: When a media outlet has made up its mind on a certain hot button issue to the point where it sees no legitimate other side to the story, only one point of view is expressed. And that’s where a lot of this Taiwan coverage has fallen.

But for journalists who know there’s always two sides to the picture, the stories are out there. But they have to want to look. And then listen.

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