China’s first-ever court case regarding same-sex unions began and ended on Wednesday with the judge ruling against a gay couple’s right to marry.
Sun Wenlin originally tried to register to marry his boyfriend, Hu Mingliang, back in June 2015, to celebrate the couple’s one-year anniversary; however their marriage request was denied with a local official telling Sun that “marriage had to be between a man and a woman.”
On December 16th, Sun fought back and filed a case against the local civil affairs bureau of Furong District, saying that he couldn’t wait any longer to start his life with his husband.
Then in January, in a historic moment for China’s LGBT community, a court in Changsha surprisingly decided to hear the case, the first time that a Chinese court has agreed to hear such a lawsuit.
After being delayed for months, the landmark case began today, and ended just a few hours later, with the judge issuing a ruling against Sun and Hu, adding that they would have to cover the litigation costs, amounting to 50 yuan.
Here’s how the trial went down, according to The New York Times:
Mr. Sun said that he had argued that he and Mr. Hu should be allowed to marry since the law did not explicitly ban same-sex marriage.
“We said this at the hearing, but they just kept repeating articles that mention ‘a man and a woman,’ ” he said, referring to the civil affairs bureau.
The bureau cited three articles from China’s marriage law and two from the official marriage registration regulation, he said, with four mentioning “a man and a woman” and one stating that a civil affairs bureau may refuse applications if it believes a couple is not qualified to marry.
“But the fact that marriage between a man and a woman is legal does not suggest that marriage between two men is illegal,” he said. “This is illogical. I asked them to name one article that explicitly bans marriage between two men, but they never answered my question directly.”
After the trial, Sun told CNN that the verdict was proof that China still legally discriminates against gay people, and that they plan to appeal the decision and continue to fight for their rights.
“What we want is not just a sheet of paper or the recognition of some strangers — this is about freedom and equality,” he said.
While the case ended in defeat, the fact that it was even heard in the first place has been seen as a major victory by gay rights advocates. While admitting that they were certainly disappointed by the verdict, Sun said they were not discouraged.
“After seeing so many people are paying attention to this case, we feel very hopeful,” he added.
The couple’s lawyer, Shi Fulong, also told CNN that the defeat is just minor setback for more victories to come.
“The gay rights movement has gone from being underground to being in the open thanks to an increasingly tolerant public,” he said. “Things will be better as society becomes more open.”
Listed as a mental illness until 2001, homosexuality is not illegal in China, though, as of yet, gay couples don’t have the legal rights or privileges afforded to heterosexual couples. Chinese labor law contains an anti-discrimination clause that covers ethnicity, religion and sex — but not gender or sexual identity. China’s new domestic violence does not apply to gay couples and recently Chinese censors have been cracking down on “immoral content,” including depictions of homosexuality in the media.
It’s been a week of landmark LGBT cases with a court in Guizhou hearing China’s first-ever case on transgender discrimination in the workplace on Monday. The court isn’t expected to render a decision in that case until later in the month.
Sun said that he has known that he is gay since he was 14. At first, his family didn’t agree, but gradually they came to accept him. “No matter how society discriminates against my son because he is gay, I will always stand firmly by him,” his mother told reporters.
Hu and Sun met through a chat group in 2014, the couple haven’t spent a day apart since their first meeting. Sun talked with The New York Times in January about their relationship, the case and LGBT rights in China:
“Around the world, in other places, gay people have joined forces to fight for their rights,” he said. “They can get married and no longer face discrimination. Inside China, we still live a life like this. We can’t get married, and we suffer discrimination.”
[Images via NetEase]