Last month, a court in Changsha hearing the country’s first-ever same-sex marriage case, ruled against one gay couple’s right to marry, but on Tuesday afternoon the two men got hitched anyway, saying that they plan to hold a lot more weddings in the future as well.
Sun Wenlin and Hu Mingliang finally said “I do,” surrounded by a crowd of over a hundred friends and family members in Changsha as a cover version of Bette Midler’s “The Rose” played on in the background, Sixth Tone reports.
The 45-minute ceremony, held on International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, has been described as “part celebrity wedding, part media spectacle.” Strangely, the highlight of the event was not the couple’s first kiss after reciting their vows, but the presentation of their imitation marriage certificates afterward. As the couple learned the hard way, Chinese law doesn’t allow official marriage certificates to be issued for same-sex marriages.
After showing off their fake certificates, Sun and Hu signed a rainbow flag and were serenaded by well-wishers with Taiwanese singer A-Mei’s gay rights anthem “Rainbow.”
Afterward, the couple revealed that this wedding was just the first of one hundred that they planned to organize across the country for gay couples, with the goal of starting to familiarize the general public with the idea of gay marriage.
Being gay is still a taboo in China, particularly for the older generation and those in the countryside. While Sun’s mother stood up after the ceremony to encourage other gay attendees to: “Be brave and tell your families you are gay!” Sun’s father’s side of the family does not agree with his lifestyle and did not attend the wedding.
Sun says that he has known that he is gay since he was 14 years old, coming out to an elderly relative at the family dinner table. He met Hu through a chat group in 2014, since their first meeting, the couple haven’t spent a day apart. In June 2015, to celebrate their one-year anniversary, they tried to register to marry; however, their marriage request was denied with a local official telling Sun that “marriage had to be between a man and a woman.”
The couple’s relationship became national news last December when 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. Much to everyone’s surprise, in January, a Changsha court decided to hear the case, the first time that a Chinese court has agreed to hear such a lawsuit.
Less surprising was the verdict, the landmark case began and ended in just a few hours, with the court agreeing that marriage was between “a man and a woman.” The couple tried to argue that that the fact that marriage between a man and a woman is legal does not suggest that marriage between two men is illegal, but to no avail.
Currently, they are still waiting to hear the outcome of an appeal they filed earlier this month. According to NetEase, Sun decided to quit his job following the verdict. “I still want to continue to appeal, even though my coworkers hadn’t said anything, I didn’t want to hold up their work because of my own affairs,” he said. He has now established his own gay marriage rights organization. Meanwhile, Hu still holds his job as a security guard. On the second day after the trial, one of his superiors recognized Hu from pictures of the case, Hu frankly asked if his boss could support him.
While Sun is from Changsha, Hu was born in rural Hunan, more than 100 km away. His father attended the ceremony, but told Sixth Tone that he doesn’t plan on telling anyone in their village. “People there don’t know much about these kinds of things,” he explained.
According to a UN report released on Tuesday, China’s younger generation is becoming “more open and accepting of sexual diversity” than their parents. In a study, two-thirds of people born after 1990 said that they “don’t mind getting close to” someone who is gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex, compared with just 56.3% of those born after 1970. Also, just 8.9% of those born after 1990 said that they wouldn’t accept their child as a sexual or gender minority, compared with 35.3% of those born after 1970.
Despite these changing attitudes, the UN estimates that just 1 in 20 of China’s LGBT community is fully open about that aspect of their life. Half of them are not open about their sexual or gender identity in school and only one-fourth are out of the closet in their own workplace.
“Despite social progress in the past decade, sex and gender minority groups are still largely invisible in daily life and in media,” said Wu Lijuan, professor of sociology at Peking University, who led the survey.
Perhaps that will change as the couple’s gay marriage campaign gains steam. Last year, one gay couple threw a wedding ceremony in Beijing, despite warnings from police. Later that year, a gay man proposed to his boyfriend on the Beijing Metro, drawing (mostly) cheers from fellow commuters. Just this month, the US Consul General in Shanghai married his Taiwanese same-sex partner in San Francisco, and later posted the pics on Weibo.
Despite these gains, there is still a lot of work to be done for China’s LGBT activists. 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 law does not apply to gay couples and recently Chinese censors have been cracking down on “immoral content,” including depictions of homosexuality in the media.
At the same time, treatment centers across the country are trying to “cure” patients’ homosexuality through electro-shock therapies and exorcisms.
[Images via NetEase / Weibo]