China’s First Marriage Equality Case Accepted by Court

China’s First Marriage Equality Case Accepted by Court

The Furong district court in Hunan province has accepted a lawsuit filed against the Changsha civil affairs bureau by 26-year-old Sun Wenlin, who was denied the right to marry his same-sex partner by the bureau last June. At Gay Star News, Darren Wee reports:

Sun and his 36-year-old boyfriend tried to register for marriage on 23 June, on their one-year anniversary.

But they were turned away by an official, who said only ‘one man and one woman’ could register. Sun then filed a lawsuit against the bureau on 16 December.

Sun told Chinese media that he knew he was gay at 14. When he first told his family, he said they looked down on him.

[…] After learning her son was ready to get married, his mother said: ‘No matter how society discriminates against my son because he is gay, I will stand firmly by him.’ [Source]

Sun’s lawsuit will become the first same-sex marriage case to be heard in China. Coverage from Reuters’ Sui-Lee Wee notes measured optimism about the Hunan court’s willingness to hear this case from Human Rights Watch’s Maya Wang:

Activists said the court’s acceptance of the case was significant and would likely lead to more such cases.

“In China, courts often reject politically sensitive cases, so the fact that the lawsuit is accepted signals some official willingness to address discrimination against LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people, which is encouraging,” said Maya Wang, a China researcher at New York-based group Human Rights Watch.

“But we will need to see if they actually win the case. If they do, it’d be a truly watershed moment for LGBT rights in China.”

[…] “From the standpoint of improving visibility, this case is no doubt a victory,” said [Sun’s lawyer] Ding, who declined to give her full name because of the sensitivity of the matter. [Source]

While tolerance towards homosexuality has grown in China in recent years, it remains taboo and many gay people are forced by family and society to remain in the closet. NPR’s Bill Chappell looks to recent state media coverage of homosexuality to illustrate wide-range in public opinion towards homosexuality:

If you’re wondering about attitudes toward homosexuality in China, consider that until 2001, it was deemed a mental disorder there. Two stories from last October suggest that there’s currently a wide range of thinking:

In the first story, the Chinese People’s Daily ran a story under the headline “Top 10 Gay and Lesbian Celebrities in China.” But weeks later, the same news outlet reported on a gay man who was committed to psychiatric care after he came out and sought to divorce his wife. [Source]

In recent years, there have been several court cases hailed as legal victories for China’s LGBT community. In 2014, gay activist Yang Teng won a landmark lawsuit against the gay conversion clinic that had attempted to alter his sexual orientation through shock therapy. Last November, 20-year-old college student Qiu Bai challenged the Ministry of Education in a Beijing court after discovering homosexuality continuing to be described as a mental disorder in many official textbooks; the court called for a second hearing in the case, and Qiu Bai vowed not to give up. The Wall Street Journal’s Lilian Lin last month reported on a more recent case, filed against China’s central media regulator by gay rights activist and filmmaker Fan Popo, also being claimed as a win for LGBT rights in China:

In Mr. Fan’s case, Chinese Internet firms including Youku Tudou and started streaming his film about three years ago, when he first posted it online. But one day last December, it was suddenly nowhere to be found.

After the two firms told him they had received a document from SAPPRFT stating that the film violated its guidelines, Mr. Fan filed a request in February for information from the regulator.

[…] In its verdict last week, the Beijing No.1 Intermediate People’s Court ruled on two points. It said that SAPPRFT was correct in stating that it hadn’t released any document calling for the film to be taken down.

On a more technical point, it rebuked the regulator for replying to Mr. Fan using the name of its “general office” rather than its own proper name.

[…] While the verdict still leaves it unclear who — if anyone — ordered the film to be taken offline, Mr. Fan and his supporters have hailed it as a victory.

“I still think the verdict is to my advantage, because now knowing the agency did not release any document, I can require the video sites to put my film back,” Mr. Fan said. [Source]

Late last year, China passed its first domestic violence law, which covered both married and cohabiting couples but excluded those in same-sex partnerships. Read more about marriage equality and LGBT rights in China, via CDT.


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