A court has accepted China’s first same-sex marriage case, lodged by a gay man against a civil affairs bureau for denying him the right to marry. The decision has been hailed as a step forward for gay rights.
While homosexuality is not illegal in China, and large cities have thriving gay scenes, same-sex marriage is not legal and same-sex couples have no legal protections.
Sun Wenlin, 26, said a court in Changsha, the capital of Hunan province, had accepted his lawsuit on Tuesday.
“I think from a legal point of view, we should be successful,” Mr Sun said.
“Our marriage law says there is the freedom to marry and gender equality. These words can be applied to same-sex marriage.”
Mr Sun said he had filed the lawsuit in December because he wanted to form a family unit with his 36-year-old partner.
LGBT rights across the globe
LGBT rights across the globe
Russia’s antipathy towards homosexuality has been well established following the efforts of human rights campaigners. However, while it is legal to be homosexual, LGBT couples are offered no protections from discrimination. They are also actively discriminated against by a 2013 law criminalising LGBT “propaganda” allowing the arrest of numerous Russian LGBT activists. (Picture: Riot police hold an LGBT activist during a Moscow rall.)
Men who are found having sex with other men face stoning, while lesbians can be imprisoned, under Sharia law. However, the state has not reportedly executed anyone for this ‘crime’ since 1987. (Picture: Chinguetti Mosque, Mauritania.)
3/7 Saudi Arabia
Homosexuality and transgender is illegal and punishable by the death penalty, imprisonment, corporal punishment, whipping and chemical castration. (Picture: The emblem of Saudi Arabia above the embassy in London.)
Bruno Vincent/Getty Images
The official position within the country is that there are no gays. LGBT inviduals, if discovered by the government, are likely to face intense pressure. Punishments range from flogging to the death penalty. (Picture: Yemen's southern port of Aden.)
Both male and female same-sex sexual activity is illegal and in some northern states punishable with death by stoning. This is not a policy enacted across the entire country, although there is a prevalent anti-LGBT agenda pushed by the government. In 2007 a Pew survey established that 97 per cent of the population felt that homosexuality should not be accepted. It is publishable by 14 years in prison. (Picture: The northern Nigerian town of Damasak.)
Homosexuality was established as a crime in 1888 and under new Somali Penal Code established in 1973 homosexual sex can be punishable by three years in prison. (Picture: Families use a boat to cross a flooded Shebelle River, in Jowhar.)
Although same-sex relationships have been decriminalised, much of the population still suffer from intense discrimination. Additionally, in some of the country over-run by the extremist organisation Isis, LGBT individuals can face death by stoning. (Picture: Purported Isis fighters in Iraq.)
Mr Sun said he had tried to register to marry his boyfriend at the Furong district civil affairs bureau in June but was rejected by an official who told him “marriage had to be between a man and woman”.
Officials at the Furong district civil affairs bureau could not be reached for comment and a court official in Furong, where the case will be heard, said the court “will not comment on cases before they are heard”.
China is becoming more tolerant of homosexuality, which until 2001 was listed as a mental disorder, but many gay people remain under heavy pressure to stay in the closet.
Activists said the court’s acceptance of the case was significant and would likely lead to more such cases.
“In China, courts often reject politically sensitive cases, so the fact that the lawsuit is accepted signals some official willingness to address discrimination against LGBT people, which is encouraging,” said Maya Wang, a China researcher at New York-based group Human Rights Watch.
“But we will need to see if they actually win the case. If they do, it’d be a truly watershed moment for LGBT rights in China.”
Mr Sun’s legal consultant, who wanted to be identified only by her surname, Ding, said the case would be heard within six months. “From the standpoint of improving visibility, this case is no doubt a victory,” she said.