Three referendum questions initiated by groups that opposed marriage equality passed, while those put forth by same-sex marriage advocates did not.
For instance, the majority vote was yes on a question that asked, “Do you agree that Civil Code regulations should restrict marriage to being between a man and a woman?”
Voters, meanwhile, rejected a question put forth by LGBT activists that asked if civil code marriage regulations “should be used to guarantee the rights of same-sex couples to get married.”
Amnesty International Taiwan’s Acting Director Annie Huang called the result “a bitter blow and a step backwards for human rights” on the island.
High court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage
The vote comes after Taiwan’s high court passed a resolution in May 2017 ruling it was unconstitutional to ban same-sex couples from getting married.
The ruling was seen as a rare beam of light in a region infamous for its repression of LGBT people.
The ruling gave Taiwanese lawmakers a two-year deadline to enshrine marriage equality into law, but the government reached a deadlock.
With the government stuck, Taiwan’s conservatives saw an opportunity to use the newly revised referendum law — under which any suggested question that gets a minimum of 280,000 signatures must be put to the people — to stall same-sex marriage.
Saturday’s results mean that Taiwan’s government could now be compelled to enforce a law already ruled unconstitutional.
Further complicating matters, there remains broad disagreement among legal experts on whether President Tsai Ing-wen’s administration is mandated to enact the result into law.
One lawmaker from the president’s Democratic Progressive Party told CNN any positive result “must pass” in the next legislative session, but a legal expert insisted it was “up to lawmakers” how they dealt with the result.
Amnesty’s regional campaign manager for Taiwan Suki Chung said the result should not be used to undermine LGBT rights.
The director of Human Rights Watch’s LGBT rights program, Graeme Reid, also called for the legislation to be enacted.
Asia’s LGBT crisis
Taiwan is home to one of Asia’s largest and most vibrant gay communities. Many of its citizens take great pride in the island’s progressive, LGBT-friendly values. If it had approved same-sex marriage, it would have become the first place in Asia to do so.
Ahead of the vote, Human Rights Watch senior researcher Maya Wang said Taiwan was seen as an inspiration for LGBT rights activists.
“What’s happening in Taiwan has been generating a lot of excitement in the region for LGBT activists, including ones in mainland China and Hong Kong, where the possibility of it being legalized will generate pressure for other governments in the region to follow,” she told CNN.
Many of Taiwan’s neighbors in Asia are regressing in their recognition of LGBT people.
While Indonesia is one of the more serious examples, Malaysia and the Philippines are also following its lead.
Campaign against gay marriage
Gay and lesbian groups in Taiwan claimed a flood of deliberate disinformation was spread to confuse the public ahead of the Saturday’s vote.
Across social media, rumors were circulated as to what could happen in Taiwan if same-sex marriage became legal, including false reports that other places that have passed the laws have regretted it.
CNN’s Ben Westcott, Angus Watson and Mimi Hsin Hsuan Sun contributed to this report.