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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 15, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 16
Chinese court rules against Gay marriage
Section One
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Chinese court rules against Gay marriage

by Victor Hawthorne - SGN Staff Writer

A court in southern China has ruled against a Gay couple seeking the right to marry in China's first court case addressing the issue of same sex unions.

The couple, Sun Wenlin and Hu Mingliang, were refused a marriage license after they tried to register in Changsha, a city of over 7 million people and the capitol of Hunan Province. In a surprising move, a district court accepted the case in January of this year, the first time a Chinese court had agreed to hear such a lawsuit.

The court held a hearing Wednesday morning, reaching a decision just a few hours later.

'I had hope before the trial started, but when I saw the official from Civil Affairs Ministry look at the judge, I knew that the result had been decided in advance,' Wenlin told USA TODAY after the court hearing.

Despite the swift ruling dismissing the case, China's Gay rights movement is making significant gains.

Cheers from hundreds of supporters greeted the couple as they arrived at Furong District People's Court. The substantial public turnout and coverage by usually conservative Chinese media appears to reflect shifting social attitudes on the topic of LGBT rights.

Homosexuality was decriminalized in 1997 and it was removed from the list of mental illnesses in 2001. In 2014, a Beijing court ruled that Gay conversion therapy was illegal because 'homosexuality does not require treatment.' Earlier this week, a labor arbitration panel in the southern province of Guizhou heard China's first Transgender job discrimination case, with an expected ruling coming in the next few weeks.

However few and far between, such cases represent a significant governmental shift on handling of LGBT issues. Still, it is not clear how far Gay rights activists will be able to go given the current political climate in China, where lawyers groups and feminist activists have been jailed in recent months.

Wenlin has not been immune to government pressure in his legal fight either. He recalled police officers showing up at his home after filing his lawsuit, who encouraged him to drop the case.

'They told me that everyone has the responsibility to carry on the family line and that I am violating traditional beliefs. I told them it's your freedom to carry on the family line, and my freedom to choose not to,' Wenlin said.

Few legal experts were surprised by the ruling, as Chinese society and the government have generally frowned on nontraditional expressions of gender and sexuality.

Ying Xin, the director of the Beijing LGBT Center explained, 'I am not surprised about today's verdict. There is no understanding of gender pluralism in China,' said Xin. 'But the fact that we have entered the era when we can ask for gay marriage, that is a big step,' she added.

Xin is optimistic and credits the shift in public opinion to media coverage.

'This is a moment because of all the news coverage, and people are gaining exposure,' Xin said, pointing out recent coverage of LGBT issues in domestic online and broadcast news outlets.

Hu Mingliang seconded the notion, recalling his own personal experience bringing Wenlin home to the countryside to meet his family and friends, who were not bothered by their same-sex relationship.

'These people knew me for 20 years,' Mingliang said. 'If you know someone who is gay, that changes your perspective. It just takes exposure.'

The couple, who plan to appeal the decision to a higher court, explained that their decision to keep fighting is not a personal one but to 'secure equality for all people.'

'It is to make gay people's voices heard,' Wenlin added.

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