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Chinese Court Rules Against Gay Couple Seeking To Get Married

Sun Wenlin (left) and his partner, Hu Mingliang, hold hands as they arrive at the Furong District Court in Changsha to argue in China's first same-sex marriage case.
Gerry Shih
Sun Wenlin (left) and his partner, Hu Mingliang, hold hands as they arrive at the Furong District Court in Changsha to argue in China's first same-sex marriage case.

A court in central China has ruled against a gay couple seeking to register for marriage. It's the first time a Chinese court has addressed the issue of same-sex marriage.

The lawsuit against authorities in the city of Changsha, Hunan province, was filed after they said Sun Wenlin, whose age has been put at 26 or 27, could not register to marry his 36-year old partner, Hu Mingliang. In January, a district court unexpectedly accepted the case.

The judge dismissed the case within hours; the BBC reports that "the couple's lawyer, Shi Funong, said he had expected the judgement to go against them, but not so quickly."

After the ruling, Sun told multiple news outlets that he plans to appeal.

The case has energized supporters of LGBT rights in China, according to The Associated Press:

"Though it was dismissed by the court in Changsha, China's first legal challenge to a law limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples has galvanized many of the hundreds of young Chinese gay rights supporters who gathered at the courthouse, some of them waving small rainbow flags. The hearing's sizable 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 wire service adds that "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."

Supporters line up to attend the court session.
Gerry Shih / AP
Supporters line up to attend the court session.

Homosexuality was classified as a mental disorder by the Chinese Psychiatric Association until 2001.

The same-sex marriage case has received significant coverage in China's state-run press. The official newspaper People's Daily tweeted an image of Sun and Hu holding hands after the ruling.

The Global Times, a state-run English newspaper, interviewed Sun in January in a generally supportive article with the headline, "Man fights for right to marry boyfriend despite chance of failure."

"Now, as the first person to do this in China, I feel it is not just my own business anymore. It has turned into a case with social significance," Sun said, according to the newspaper. "Standing in this position, I hope to go ahead even further, so that those who follow will find the path easier."

He told the Times that he believes Chinese law does not explicitly bar same-sex marriage. "As I understand it, our law does not say that same-sex marriage is illegal. It never mentions if same-sex marriage is legal or not," Sun said. "People just see the law as only allowing heterosexual unions."

Despite the media coverage, Sun reportedly had been pressured to abandon his legal challenge. As the Two-Way reported in January, Sun told the Times that the police came to his house: "The officer kept emphasizing that it is important to have a child to carry on one's family name, but I can't abide by people imposing their values on me."

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Merrit Kennedy
Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.
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