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Same-sex marriage sticky topic for Catholic politicians

TAIPEI (UCAN): Being a high-profile Catholic and favoured candidate for vice president in the upcoming January 16 elections in Taiwan, Philip Chen Chien-jen has become something of an intrigue in public life in the island nation.

Mainstream media in Taiwan have focussed attention on Chen, a former public health official and academic, since it was announced on November 16 he would run alongside presidential candidate, Tsai Ing-wen, as her second-in-command.

Chen’s Catholic identity, particularly his papal knighthood, has been of particular interest to the media and to Catholics in general.

Chen was made a Knight of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre in 2010 and of the Order of St. Gregory the Great in 2013 for his contribution to Church Life.

He was grilled by the media on his views on same-sex marriage on November 18, prior to a meeting with the Democratic Progressive Party under whose banner he is running, a topic on which he has said little other than it needs more discussion.

“God loves everyone and so he also loves gay people,” Chen said.

He then cited a 2013 statement from Pope Francis, in which he said, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”

Chen then added, “Therefore, I also believe that gays have the right to pursue happiness and we should respect that right. But since same-sex marriage involves a change in society’s system, it needs more in-depth discussion before a decision is made.”

In Taiwan, there is public support for the legalisation of same-sex marriage, promoted in the name of a pluralistic form of family, which Chen’s presidential running mate, Tsai, has publicly supported.

Taiwanese legislators have been drafting related bills in the wake of a Supreme Court decision in the United States of America that has legalised same-sex marriage in every state.

Some observers believe this may prove to be a delicate situation for Chen, if he is elected to office.

“This is an inevitable sensitive topic that Chen has to face eventually. He must have thought of it before he decided to be Tsai’s running mate,” Cathy Huang, a member of a Taiwanese Catholic Society for University Students, said.

“I think he would face pressure from the bishops’ conference,” she added.

David Chiu, who is in his 30s, said that some Catholics have taken to social media to discuss Chen’s participation in the election, particularly since the Catholic candidate made a note of saying that he consulted with Archbishop John Hung Shan-chuan, from Taipei, before making his decision to run.

“One asked why Chen needs to discuss anything with the archbishop while another thought Chen must have known his political stance would contradict the Church teaching and thus asked for a Church pardon beforehand,” Chiu said.

In August, the government conducted a 90-day online poll on gay marriage. Ending on October 31, the poll heavily favoured same-sex marriage, with 71 per cent of respondents supporting it.

However, there are also claims that systemic loopholes in the online poll painted an inaccurate picture and the result may not be representative of overall public opinion at all.


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