Taiwan's vice president, Annette Lu, angered gay rights activists and politicians at home and abroad on Monday when she suggested that AIDS was God's punishment for homosexuality, Agence France-Presse reports. "Some said the reason why AIDS spreads is because God cannot stand it anymore," television reports showed Lu saying at an AIDS awareness event at the weekend. "God felt it's time to mete out punishment, or there would not be any difference between men and animals," Lu said, urging the public to practice safer sex.
The Presidential Office issued a statement expressing regret over the report, saying Lu's comments had been misinterpreted. "Instead, Vice President Lu asked the public not to discriminate against AIDS patients," the office said. The remarks were severely condemned by local gay rights groups. "For a long time, AIDS and homosexuals have been wrongly blamed.... If she really said that, then she would be just one of those who attempted to smear the image of homosexuals," Chan Ming-chou of Taiwan Gay and Lesbian Association told AFP. Parliamentarian Chou Hsi-wei, from the opposition People First Party, also blasted Lu, who is the convenor of a human rights consultation group that falls under the Presidential Office. "How can our vice president say this? Just think--some of the AIDS victims are children," the legislator said. Even members of the vice president's own Democratic Progressive Party appeared embarrassed. "She should not have said [it].... But I think it was a slip of the tongue," DPP parliamentarian Lin Yu-sheng said.
According to AFP, Taiwan is generally tolerant of homosexuality. Its cabinet is drafting a bill to legalize gay marriages and recognize the right of gay and lesbian couples to adopt children, which, if approved, would make the island the first region in Asia to legalize same-sex marriages. The final draft of the bill is expected to be ready for parliamentary review this month. The island has a low rate of HIV infection compared with other countries in the Asia-Pacific region, where AIDS kills a person every minute, according to the World Health Organization. A total of 5,550 people in Taiwan, including 5,125 Taiwanese citizens and 425 foreigners, were listed as HIV carriers from 1984 to November 30, 2003, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It says 907 domestic AIDS patients have died of the disease.