Over 1,000 people attended a mass same-sex wedding banquet outside the presidential palace in Taipei on Saturday, one day after Taiwan legally recognized the first same-sex marriages in Asia.
As the sun set over the capital, eager spectators lined up along Ketagalan Boulevard, where countless protests and parades for LGBTQ rights have taken place in the last few decades, to witness the marriage of 20 same-sex couples.
The mood was convivial, as the site of protest became one for celebration.
Organized in the style of a traditional Taiwanese outdoor wedding, the banquet included 160 tables and a long red carpet in the middle. The smell of seafood and smoked ribs filled the air as spectators waved rainbow flags, turning Ketagalan Boulevard into a sea of color.
Sitting on two stools by the sidewalk, Nancy and Cherry, who asked only to use their first names for privacy, were attentively fixing each other’s outfit.
They had been waiting for this moment since they started dating two years ago, when gay rights groups in Taiwan kicked off a campaign to convince the legislature to legalize same-sex marriage.
Now, they could finally tie the knot. As they prepared for the ceremony, they appeared calm but uneasy about the cameras around them.
“We didn’t decide to join the public wedding with the intention of becoming famous,” Nancy said. “We are just an ordinary couple hoping to create some special memories that’ll always remind us of this historic day.”
Taiwan legalized same-sex marriage on May 17, when its legislature passed a bill granting same-sex couples the right to marry.
The law came into effect on Friday, and over 500 couples registered at local offices across the island, making Taiwan the first jurisdiction in Asia to legally recognize same-sex marriage.
For Alex Chiu and Joe Tsao, who have been together for 11 years and were one of the first to register on Friday, getting married was a political act.
“Since LGBTQ individuals had been deprived of the right to get married for decades, I never seriously thought marrying someone I love would be part of my life plan,” Tsao says. “In fact, our decision to be one of the first couples to register on Friday was more out of activism.”
The process was still surreal to them. They first attempted to register as a married couple in 2014, but they were rejected by the same local office that certified their marriage on Friday.
“Even though we’ve been together for over a decade, there were very few romantic moments.”
For many LGBTQ activists, who have spent decades fighting for the right to marry, the energy poured into the battle has left little time for their personal lives.
(Read more: A Chinese mother’s letter to her lesbian daughter)
“Even though we’ve been together for over a decade, there were very few romantic moments,” Chiu says. “Now that we are happily married, we plan to organize a proper wedding to celebrate.”
A booming market
With the legalization of same-sex marriage, Taiwan’s wedding industry expects a boom.
Same-sex couples could potentially add over $92 million to Taiwan’s wedding industry, as over 3,000 same-sex couples are expected to complete marriage registration in the next few months, according to rights group Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan.
“At least 50 businesses have expressed interest in helping same-sex couples plan their weddings and other relevant activities,” says Cheng Chih-wei, director of Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association, one of the island’s biggest LGBTQ organizations. “The wide range of businesses could form a wedding industry that’s specifically tailored toward same-sex couples in Taiwan.”
Not only that, tourism, real estate, and the child-care sector stand to benefit with couples going on honeymoons, buying houses, and raising children together.
Several international airlines have expressed interest in working with LGBTQ organizations in Taiwan to offer special packages to same-sex couples in Taiwan.
“Air Canada and several European airlines have contacted us and expressed interest in discussing future collaboration,” Cheng says.
For now, a time to celebrate
As the ceremony got under way, Victoria Hsu and Chien Chih-chieh gazed out at the crowd from the sidelines.
The two have dedicated the past 10 years of their relationship to fighting for same-sex marriage. As lawyers with one of the largest LGBTQ advocacy groups in Taiwan, Hsu and Chien have represented dozens of same-sex couples in court.
For them, seeing so many couples and their supporters celebrate the island’s moment in the sun is momentary comfort for their decade-long fight.
There is still a long way to go for same-sex couples in Taiwan. For one, there are still restrictions on non-biological adoption and recognition of transnational same-sex marriages.
“We do hope that the unaddressed challenges facing LGBTQ couples in Taiwan can be resolved in the next two years,” Hsu says, “which will allow me and Chieh to finally have more time together as a couple.”
But for now, Hsu says, it’s a time for the community to celebrate.