Judge rules against couple in China’s first same-sex case

Sun Wenlin, left, and his partner Hu Mingliang hold hands as they arrive at the Furong District Court in Changsha in Hunan province. Picture: AP
Sun Wenlin, left, and his partner Hu Mingliang hold hands as they arrive at the Furong District Court in Changsha in Hunan province. Picture: AP
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A judge has ruled against a gay couple in China’s first same-sex marriage case that attracted several hundred supporters to the courthouse in a landmark moment for the country’s emerging LGBT rights movement.

The court in the central city of Changsha dismissed the suit brought against the local civil affairs bureau for refusing to issue the couple a marriage registration certificate yesterday.

It goes against the spirit of the laws of the people’s republic of China

Shi Fulong

Shi Fulong, the couple’s lawyer, said he expected the judge would rule against them. “It goes against the spirit of the laws of the people’s republic of China,” Shi said.

Plaintiff Sun Wenlin said he would appeal until he exhausts all legal options.

The lawsuit comes amid growing awareness of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues in China, where society and the government have generally frowned on non-traditional expressions of gender and sexuality.

China doesn’t legally recognise same-sex marriage and officials with the central government have said they do not see the law changing soon.

Sun, his partner Hu Mingliang, and the lawyer entered Changsha’s Furong District courthouse yesterday morning amid cheers from roughly 300 supporters, some of whom had waited outside since 5am or travelled overnight from neighbouring provinces.

Court officials allowed in about 100 spectators and then pleaded with fervent college students that the courtroom was full and that they had to turn others away.

Sun said the police had earlier visited him at the apartment he shares with Hu to try to talk him out of pursuing the lawsuit, but left after he reiterated his determination to press forward with the case.

While homosexuality is not illegal in China, the country’s LGBT movement is still in its infancy and it is rare for same-sex couples to live openly.

Though it was dismissed by the court in Changsha, China’s first legal challenge to a law limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples has galvanised many of the hundreds of young gay rights supporters who gathered at the courthouse, some of them waving small rainbow flags. The hearing’s sizeable public turnout and coverage by usually conservative Chinese media appeared to reflect early signs of shifting social attitudes in China on the topic of sexual orientation.

The judge’s ruling against the couple came down after a three-hour hearing – but that didn’t dampen the mood of many of the hundreds of young Chinese who gathered outside the courthouse hoping for a chance to “witness history,” in the words of one supporter. Chinese society and the government have generally frowned on nontraditional expressions of gender and sexuality, but awareness of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues is rising.

In 2014, a Chinese court ruled that gay conversion treatments were illegal. Earlier this week, a labour arbitration panel in the southern province of Guizhou heard China’s first transgender job discrimination case and is expected to make a ruling in the coming weeks.

Ying Xin, the director of the Beijing LGBT Centre, said there was a sharp uptick in awareness of gay issues compared to 2009, when the group started doing street performance art in Beijing.

“This is a moment because of all the news coverage, and people are gaining exposure,” Ying said, pointing to recent coverage of LGBT issues.