A bill that would make Taiwan the first Asian county to legalize same-sex marriage was stuck in committee Thursday, while thousands protested outside the Legislative Yuan demanding a referendum on the issue.
"How the law defines marriage should be decided by the entire population," demonstrators said, accusing the committee of planning a "black box vote" to pass the bill.
Opinion polling over the past several years has shown majority support for same-sex marriage.
The rally was organised by Alliance of Taiwan Religious Groups for the Protection of Family, a hard-line conservative group known for fighting to stop the legalisation of gay marriage.
The demonstrators, numbering in their thousands, were dressed in white and stuck large stickers reading "Marriage and family, let the people decide" to their clothes.
Protest leaders speaking to the crowd on a temporary stage said "All children have the right to a mother and a father" as the rally congested the main road outside the Legislative Yuan for over six hours.
In a petition letter, the group said that individual clauses could be amended to protect the rights of people who are LGBT, including emergency room visitation and inheritance rights.
However, they added, "the fundamental concept of what marriage is — the combination of a man and a woman — should not be changed," saying that doing so would be "very confusing for children."
If no referendum were held, public hearings should be conducted instead before the bill moves forward, the demonstrators said. However, around noon, the Judiciary and Organic Laws and Statutes Committee voted five-four not to hold hearings.
A small, peaceful counter-protest was staged near the main demonstration, with advocates of marriage equality waving rainbow flags and banners reading "We support gay people."
Marriage of 'two parties'
Meanwhile, the bill committee was reviewing several amendments proposed by various parties. All would legalise same-sex marriage, with only slight differences in the details.
LGBT rights groups, couples and supporters have urged lawmakers to pass the bill this legislative session, which ends in December but could be extended if necessary.
In several press conferences organised by social media celebrity and senior Taiwan LBGT Hotline Association researcher Jennifer Lu, gay rights groups have strongly supported the amendment drafted by Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Yu Mei-nu.
Yu's draft removes the use of "male and female parties" in the marriage chapter of the Civil Code, replacing the term with "two parties."
Article 972, a key Civil Code clause governing spousal rights, would be amended accordingly to state that "an agreement to marry shall be made by the two parties in their own (con)cord."
Taiwan was praised by international media and rights groups last month after the draft passed its first reading.