A court in the central Chinese province of Hunan has accepted a lawsuit filed by a gay man against the government for refusing his application to marry his male partner in a key test of LGBT rights in the country.
Sun Wenlin, 26, filed the complaint against the Furong district civil affairs bureau in Hunan's provincial capital Changsha last month, after officials from the bureau refused to allow the couple to register their marriage in the same way that heterosexual couples do.
The Furong District People's Court notified Sun's lawyer that it had accepted the case on Tuesday. It now has six months to reach a decision.
Sun is arguing that current Chinese marriage law refers to the union of "husband and wife," but without specifying the gender of either party to the marriage.
The argument rests on the idea that a person can identify as a husband or a wife without reference to their gender.
His lawyer Shi Fulong hailed the acceptance of the case as "a historic moment."
But he said he wasn't optimistic about the outcome.
"[Overall], I'm not optimistic, because gay rights haven't figured so far in Chinese law," Shi said. "We may have succeeded in filing a lawsuit, but it's very hard to predict what the outcome will be."
But he said progress made in other countries on gay marriage would likely have an impact in China, too.
"We are in an era of legislation for equal gay [LGBT] rights and anti-discrimination law," Shi said. "But I think we still have a long, slow road ahead of us."
"Perhaps this case will act as an example for other [LGBT] people [in China]," he said.
‘No provision in law’
Sun was prompted to make the complaint after he showed up at the marriage registration office of the Furong district civil affairs bureau in Changsha on June 23 with his partner Hu Mingliang and applied for a marriage certificate.
An official in charge of marriage registrations told the couple, who had been together for two years, that "there is no provision in law for people of the same sex to marry."
Undeterred, Sun lodged his complaint on Dec. 16, calling on the court to order the bureau to allow the marriage to be registered.
Since he did so, he has been approached by local police, who visited his home and asked to interview him "to understand the situation," Wuhan-based rights activist Gou Gou, who is helping Sun with the case, told RFA.
When Sun refused, saying there was no obligation for him to discuss the case with the police, they sought out his grandmother with the same request, Gou Gou said.
But he said he was pleasantly surprised that the court had accepted Sun's complaint at all.
"This case has already surpassed my expectations in just getting to this first step," he said. "We never thought that this case would even get accepted because the court didn't seem well-disposed to the idea, and we even had visits from the police."
"I think that the purpose of this case is to let the court and the civil affairs bureau know that there is a huge desire for marriage in the LGBT community."
Gou Gou said that the court had initially objected to Sun's lawsuit, saying that it should have been filed jointly by the couple.
"I have never held out much hope about the court, but however they decide, the fact that they agreed to accept the case at all is ... a huge step forward for the rule of law in China," he said.
Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.