The Furong District People’s Court in Changsha didn’t seem to think its decision needed an explanation.
Despite the court’s terse dismissal of a landmark case that would have recognized the first same-sex marriage in China, Sun Wenlin, the plaintiff, is not deterred. He plans to appeal the ruling, and believes that public opinion and the quest for equality are on his side.
Sun, originally from Hunan, and his partner, Hu Mingliang, had tried in June 2015 to have their relationship registered as a legal marriage by the civil affairs bureau in Changsha. The authorities refused to do so. Police visited Sun at home to persuade him to drop the case. Instead, Sun pursued legal action. He was as surprised as everyone else when in January 2016 the court agreed to hear the case.
China did not remove homosexuality from its list of psychiatric disorders until 2001, and it has no laws against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. While a handful of legal cases have started to chip away at institutionalized discrimination, Sun’s experience underscores the state’s unwillingness to recognize the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.
Public opinion, on the other hand, suggests growing support for LGBT rights and equality. Hundreds of supporters turned out at the Changsha courthouse in support of Sun this week. Following the 2015 US Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage, many Chinese expressed their support on China’s version of Twitter. Chinese authorities’ recent decision to censor television programs depicting same-sex relationships triggered a wave of domestic criticism, and a 2013 video of a 90-year-old grandmother urging legalization of same-sex marriage for her gay grandson and others went viral. Parents of gays and lesbians have written to China’s National People’s Congress, demanding equal marriage rights for their children.
Growing support for same-sex marriage in China shows that the government is well behind the curve on this issue. The government should act to ensure marriage equality for all Chinese rather than waiting for the courts to be bold enough to do the right thing.