A quiet revolution is beginning in China. For the first time, a court has weighed the legality of gay marriage, and though the judge’s ruling was against the union, it’s being seen as a big step forward.
Very simply, the case has put an issue that has recently hidden in the shadows — LGBT rights — in the spotlight.
“The bigger significance of this case is that it will let more people know about their rights,” said lawyer Gou Gou; he’s part of an informal group of attorneys called the Rainbow Lawyers network, according to ABC News. “But young people are the most passionate. This will hopefully direct them to become more involved with the right training.”
Two men are at the heart of the revolution: Sun Wenlin and Hu Mingliang. They filed a lawsuit against the civil affairs bureau in Changsha, located in the Hunan Province of southern China. They tried to get a registration certificate in June 2015 and were denied because they are gay, The New York Times recounted.
— Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) April 13, 2016
Sun told his family he was gay at age 14; they support him and his quest for equal rights. He ran a teahouse in Changsha for eight months, where he gave weekly talks on sexuality and identity. That is where he met Hu, who’s 37 and a security guard. Hu is from the country and his parents are conservative, but accept that their son is gay as well.
After their first meeting, they didn’t spend a day apart. On the first anniversary of their romance, they tried to register to be married. Instead, they filed a lawsuit. Sun explained why earlier this year.
“Around the world, in other places, gay people have joined forces to fight for their rights. They can get married and no longer face discrimination. Inside China, we still live a life like this. We can’t get married, and we suffer discrimination.”
After they filed their suit, police came to Sun’s house, urging him to drop it. The officers told the gay couple that the point of being married is to have children. They made it clear they had every intention to fight for gay marriage.
The couple had argued that they should be able to marry because the law doesn’t explicitly ban same-sex unions. The bureau “just kept repeating articles that mention ‘a man and a woman,'” Sun explained. They cited three articles in China’s marriage law and two from registration regulations; four mentioned that marriage was between a “man and a woman,” and a fifth said that the bureau could deny an application if the couple isn’t qualified to marry.
— The Economist (@TheEconomist) April 13, 2016
“But the fact that marriage between a man and a woman is legal does not suggest that marriage between two men is illegal. This is illogical. I asked them to name one article that explicitly bans (unions) between two men, but they never answered my question directly.”
Sun and Hu are “definitely disappointed” by the ruling and plan to appeal. And though Sun feels hopeful due to the level of attention his case is getting, he doesn’t want to be a spokesman for China’s homosexual community.
It seems that they likely don’t have a choice. The court’s ruling may have been a defeat, but the issue is being heard — and that’s something. Hundreds of supporters gathered at the courthouse before the ruling, waving small rainbow flags. Some people traveled overnight and lined up at 5 a.m. to attend the hearing.
Activists are optimistic because the court ruling, its news coverage, and social media attention means social attitudes in Chinese culture may be changing.
The mainstream media is covering LGBT issues. A court ruled in 2014 that homosexual conversion treatments are illegal. A labor arbitration panel is hearing China’s first case of transgender discrimination; a ruling in that case is pending. Even the state broadcaster has covered LGBT issues.
“This is a moment because of all the news coverage, and people are gaining exposure,” said Ying Xin, the director of the Beijing LGBT Center.
[Photo By Gerry Shih / AP]