How soon will China legalize gay marriage?

16 May

The existence of homosexuality in China has been well documented since ancient times. According to one study, homosexuality in China was regarded as a normal facet of life in China, prior to the Western impact of 1840 onwards. (Brett, 1990) However, this has been disputed by many different academics. However, it has been argued that many early Chinese emperors are speculated to have had homosexual relationships, accompanied by heterosexual ones. Opposition to homosexuality and the rise of homophobia, according to the study by Hinsch, did not become firmly established in China until the 19th and 20th centuries, through the Westernization efforts of the late Qing Dynasty and early Republic of China. (Brook, 1998). Shanghai is far from being a gay-paradise on the level of Amsterdam or San Francisco. However, China’s LGBT community has made remarkable strides in recent decades, and being home to the world’s largest population of LGBT individuals, what happens in China matters to the rest of the world’s queer community (Stokols, 2013). Gay life in China follows geographic and economic divisions, as it does in the U.S.  Large cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and south-western Chengdu are home to large gay populations, with nightlife scenes increasingly open in the last decade. With widespread atheism – meaning that there is very little religious opposition and stigma as seen in the US, legalising gay marriage therefore seems like a logical step. However, due to some key issues, including sham marriages and the family culture, the progression of equal rights is somewhat stunted.

Sham marriages are a massive problem in China. Around 80% of gay and lesbian people in China marry to please demanding parents and to save their careers (Branigan, 2013). Homosexuality was illegal in China until 1997, and was only taken off of the mental health lists in 2001. Therefore there are still very modern conceptions of homosexual people within China. Those without a family often are not respected either by their employers or their families. This comes down to the very basic family culture which Van Sant (2013), picks out in her video (link attached). Men, still the very much leading in the figure are very much pressured into marriage in order to have children so that the family line can continue. This has been made much worse by the one child policy (Lim, 2013).  Men are being forced into marriages, even though they are gay. As many as 16 million men are married to straight women, who have no idea that their partner is gay. This is causing much heartache for all parties involved when the situation is revealed. These marriages of convenience only fuel a vicious circle within china. Legalising gay marriage may be a way forward.

Lesbians, that also want to have children, find it extremely hard to be able to have kids. The Chinese government enforces strict birth control policies on single mothers. Therefore, gay or not, a single woman may find it hard to have a child. Therefore, a woman who is gay but isn’t married may find it increasingly difficult to have a child. Allowing female/male couples to have the same basic rights as heterosexual couples would therefore allow women to be able to have children freely (Branigan, 2013). This is what is being argued for, however due to the fact that homosexual couples cannot get married, there has been an increasing trend in homosexuals, of opposite sexes, meeting online and arranging a sham marriage. This is not only to please families and remain employable, but to also bypass the massive family culture that is resident within China. These couples tend not to last a long and often cause more damage to the individuals than previously thought. Many men/women leave these marriages with severe depression, proving that gay marriage could ‘make practical sense’ (Stokols, 2013).

It’s against this backdrop of widespread and entrenched bias against homosexuals in society that LGBT groups have rallied behind same-sex marriage as a means to an end of raising public awareness and popular understanding of homosexuality (Lim, 2013). China’s gay culture may lack the political dimension that often accompanies queer culture in the U.S., but there is a growing number of civil society organizations involved in LGBT rights and health. A recent poll on popular Internet portal Sina.com indicated over 50% of respondents supported gay marriage (Stokols, 2013).

With this growing gay rights movement, reported in the state-owned China Daily, a Guangzhou-based NGO representing 100 parents of gays and lesbians, or “comrades,” sent an open letter to China’s National People’s Congress, its formal legislature, urging adoption of same-sex marriage benefits. Even though thy never received a response, this example shows how the profile of homosexual marriage has been raised and that it is openly discussed in official media. This is mirrored by Sociologist and activist Li Yinhe, who has submitted a similar petition to the NPC each year since 2003. Although unsuccessful, she has raised national visibility of homosexuality and gay marriage.

The high profile visit by Iceland’s Prime Minister, who is openly gay, has also attracted the attention of many of the LGBT communities across China. Even though homosexual content in movies and on websites is still massively censored, this visit by a high official raised the homosexual agenda through the press.  With this however, it is noted that even though homosexuals are no longer directly harassed, they are by in large ignored by the government and most of the population. However, there is no sign that the issue will disappear in the near future. China saw its first public gay marriage – which is not protected under the law – in the south-western city of Chengdu in 2010. This January, a wedding reception in Beijing’s outskirts held by an elderly gay couple triggered widespread discussion about gay rights in China as well (Lim, 2013).

It is therefore easy to see how marriage equality may be quite possible within China, however, the massive family culture which plays a large part of everyday life in China still seems to be the main barrier. However, this may not be so for long!

Branigan, T. (14th April, 2013), The Guardian, accessed at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/apr/14/chinese-gay-lovers-seek-wife

Brook, T. (1998): The Confusions of Pleasure: Commerce and Culture in Ming China. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Hinsch, B. (1990): Passions of the Cut Sleeve. University of California Press, California.

The Huffington Post (27th February, 2013) accessed at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/27/china-parents-gays-lesbians-marriage-letter-_n_2775374.html

Jiang, C. (1st May, 2013), Time World, accessed at: http://world.time.com/2013/05/01/chinas-gays-and-lesbians-stymied-by-lack-of-marriage-equality/

Lim, Z. H. (11th April, 2013), The Atlantic, accessed at: http://www.theatlantic.com/china/archive/2013/04/for-gay-chinese-getting-married-means-getting-creative/274895/

Stokols, A. (1st May, 2013), Policymic, accessed at: http://www.policymic.com/articles/36313/will-china-legalize-gay-marriage-before-the-united-states

Trifunov, D. (12th April, 2013), Global Post, accessed at: http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/china/130412/china-gay-marriage-gays-marry-lesbians-lgbt

Von Sant, S. (13th May, 2013), Voice of America, accessed at: http://www.voanews.com/content/homosexuals-press-for-rights-in-china/1660023.html

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One Response to “How soon will China legalize gay marriage?”

  1. jpt1g11 May 16, 2013 at 9:16 am #

    I tend to agree with you, in that I think the family model is so entrenched in Chinese society that anything different to it is seen in a completely different context or as unusual for some reason. The sheer pressure to continue the family line is one that probably isn’t conducive to a more open or liberal society.

    It’s a shame the issue of LGBT rights is simply ignored by the government most of the time and brushed under the carpet like it doesn’t exist. Maybe the CCP feels that it is a issue with little importance, hence it doesn’t merit the attention of legislation to correct discrimination.

    It is however worth noting that we ourselves only have a relatively recent history of open sexuality in Britain. In the 1960s, homosexuality was still listed as a mental illness. Huge progress has been made, and the same can be said of China. The test now will be to encourage a more respectful society towards LGBT rights.

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