A Tale of Two Countries
National marriage equality: the legalization of same-sex marriage and recognition that same-sex pairings are to be granted the same privileges under the state as straight pairings, is widely recognized as a turning point for a country’s acceptance of queer identities at all levels of society. More than thirty countries around the world have legalized same-sex marriage, most of them being advanced industrial democracies. Given such hegemony, one may expect that being an advanced industrial democracy is one of the strongest indicators as to whether a country has instituted same-sex marriage. Yet, out of the three Asian countries which meet the criteria: South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan, only Taiwan has instituted marriage equality. The timing of progress in East Asia, particularly in Japan, still presents a puzzle to scholars given dominant understandings of queer culture and politics. Through comparative examination of the social and political structures in Taiwan and Japan as they relate to queer rights and expression, I seek to prove that robust democratic institutions and practices are the main factor in securing marriage equality rather than socio-cultural attitudes, judicial processes, or mass political movements. To this point, robust institutions and practices can be defined as those which actively imbue a citizen with more voting power or the amount of political power an individual is granted by the state to determine government policies that affect their life and those of their community. Healthy competition between political parties occurs as a result, meaning issues pertaining to minority communities are much more likely to be part of party platforms. As such, governments are more likely to actively push for social reform and are otherwise disincentivized from alienating minority groups.