Chinese Court Rules Against Landmark Gay Marriage Plea

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Sun Wenlin (L) and his partner Hu Mingliang file a lawsuit against the Furong district civil affairs bureau for refusing their application to marry in Changsha, provincial capital of southern China's Hunan province, Dec. 16, 2015.
Sun Wenlin (L) and his partner Hu Mingliang file a lawsuit against the Furong district civil affairs bureau for refusing their application to marry in Changsha, provincial capital of southern China's Hunan province, Dec. 16, 2015.
Photo courtesy of Sun Wenlin

A court in the central Chinese province of Hunan has rejected a complaint filed by a gay man against the government for refusing his application to marry his male partner.

Sun Wenlin, 26, had filed the historic complaint against the Furong district civil affairs bureau in Hunan's provincial capital Changsha, after officials from the bureau refused to allow him and his partner Hu Mingliang to register their marriage there last year.

But the Furong District People's Court ruled against the couple, he told RFA on Wednesday.

"I am not satisfied with this decision, and I will continue to appeal as soon as I have the court's judgment document," Sun said.

"The court has just taken the government's side in this, and hasn't acted in an independent capacity," he said.

"I hope that we will see change in our country, and the recognition of gay marriage as legal in China," Sun said. "I want to be the person to achieve that goal."

Sun's partner Hu Mingliang said he was very disappointed with the decision.

"I feel very sad right now, because the government hasn't entered into a serious dialogue with us; they just expect us to accept it," Hu said.

"They should really take more time to reflect on our case, and to realize that what we are actually asking for is a government that serves the people," he said. "What have they really done for the people?"

‘Husband and wife’

Sun, whose case has been hailed as a key test of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights in the country, 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.

He told RFA that his argument rests on the idea that a person can identify as a husband or a wife without reference to their gender.

Lawyer Shi Fulong, who represents the couple, said the judge hadn't seen it that way, however.

"Their argument was that China's Marriage Law only provides for marriage between a man and a woman," Shi said. "But personally, I wish that they'd given a bit more detail in their judgment, which was rather short when it was read out in court."

He said the detailed judgment document has yet to be sent out by the court.

"Once we receive it, we'll have 15 days to lodge an appeal," Shi said.

Shi said the courtroom was packed with hundreds of people who had gathered to hear the decision.

"There was only enough seating for 100 or 200, and a lot of people were left outside," he said.

"There were gay people there and some students and professors from universities, as observers, as well as staff members and relatives," he said.

‘No provisions in the law’

Sun was initially 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 Hu, 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 the law for people of the same sex to marry."

Undeterred, Sun lodged his complaint on Dec. 16, 2016 calling on the court to order the bureau to allow the marriage to be registered.

The acceptance of the case for deliberation was hailed by rights activists and the LGBT community as a milestone, and an opportunity to let the government know how much LGBT people in China want to be legally married.

Grassroots Chinese rights activists have repeatedly called for an end to discrimination and for changes to school textbooks they say might encourage it, as well as classes in gender diversity.

Transgender case

The decision in Sun's case comes as labor arbitration officials in the southwestern province of Guizhou consider a case brought by a transgender man who said he was fired by his employer for wearing men's clothes, The New York Times' Sinosphere blog reported on Monday.

The plaintiff, a 28-year-old man identified only as Mr. C in state media reports, said he has been living as a man since graduating from university.

But a recent crackdown on nongovernmental organizations, including the detention of five women's rights activists last year, has hampered their efforts.

More and more well-heeled urban Chinese have begun coming out in recent years, and while some find acceptance among their peers, social attitudes still strongly favor marriage and children.

Exactly how many Chinese would identify themselves as gay is still unknown, as social stigma associated with homosexuality remains widespread. Many choose to marry despite their orientation.

Official statistics released in 2004 suggest that China is home to some 10 million people who identify as one of the LGBT minorities.

The ruling Chinese Communist Party treated homosexuality as a psychological problem for decades, removing it from an official list of mental disorders only in 2001.

Reported by Wong Lok-to for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.





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