Asian Courts and LGBT Rights

Oxford Encyclopedia of LGBT Politics and Policy (Don Haider-Markel, ed.), Forthcoming

UNC Legal Studies Research Paper

33 Pages Posted: 4 Nov 2019 Last revised: 12 Dec 2019

See all articles by Holning Lau

Holning Lau

University of North Carolina School of Law

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: September 17, 2019


Courts have played an integral part in advancing the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities in many parts of Asia. For example, Taiwan’s highest court ruled in 2017 that it was unconstitutional to exclude same-sex couples from marriage. As a result, in 2019, Taiwan became the first jurisdiction in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage. Among judicial decisions from Asia, Taiwan’s marriage ruling has gone the furthest in affirming same-sex relationships, but it is not alone in vindicating the rights of gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals. Courts in Asia have also advanced transgender rights. For example, building on earlier cases from Nepal and Pakistan, the Indian Supreme Court stated in 2014 that transgender persons have a right to select gender markers on identity documents based on self-determination. The judgment also directed the government to implement affirmative action programs to support transgender communities. This judgment broke new ground, not only for Asia but for the world.

While LGBT rights advocates have celebrated these court victories, litigation to advance LGBT rights has failed in other parts of Asia. Indeed, courts in some parts of Asia have entrenched LGBT subordination. A vast expanse separates Asia’s most progressive judicial decisions from the most oppressive. The landscape of judicial decisions is further complicated by the fact that it continues to change at a rapid clip. This chapter examines this mixed and quickly changing landscape of judicial developments concerning LGBT rights in Asia.

This chapter starts by providing an overview of the divergent roles that Asian courts have played with respect to LGBT rights. It then highlights — and offers preliminary answers to — three questions prompted by the judicial development of LGBT rights in Asia: (1) What factors have contributed to the divergence among Asian jurisdictions? (2) How should developments in Asia inform existing narratives about the development of LGBT rights? (3) How do politics and public opinion affect courts’ ability to advance LGBT rights in Asia?

Keywords: Asia, sexual orientation, gender identity, LGBT rights, human rights

Suggested Citation

Lau, Holning, Asian Courts and LGBT Rights (September 17, 2019). Oxford Encyclopedia of LGBT Politics and Policy (Don Haider-Markel, ed.), Forthcoming, UNC Legal Studies Research Paper, Available at SSRN:

Holning Lau (Contact Author)

University of North Carolina School of Law ( email )

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