It’s a key test for LGBT rights in a country that has been less than welcoming.
Chinese LGBT rights activists march in the 2011 Los Angeles Pride Parade. Image via Flickr user InSapphoWeTrust
China only decriminalized homosexuality in 1997, and officially stopped classifying it as a mental illness in 2001. So it is big news that a gay Chinese man has sued a government agency for the right to marry another man—and that a Chinese court has agreed to hear the lawsuit.
Sun Wenlin, 26, filed his complaint against the Furong district civil affairs bureau in the city of Changsha last month. (NPR notes that “Sun Wenlin” may be a pseudonym.) Officials from the bureau had refused to register Sun’s marriage to his male partner. The district court accepted the case Tuesday, and now has six months to decide its outcome.
Shi Fulong, Sun’s lawyer, told Radio Free Asia that he will challenge the idea that Chinese marriage laws’ reference to “husband and wife” denotes specific genders. Under this interpretation, a “wife” can be a man, and a “husband” a woman.
“[Overall], I’m not optimistic, because gay rights haven’t figured so far in Chinese law,” Shi said. “We may have succeeded in filing a lawsuit, but it's very hard to predict what the outcome will be.”
But Shi said the fact that an increasing number of countries recognize gay marriage has an influence on Chinese thought and policy. “We are in an era of legislation for equal gay [LGBT] rights and antidiscrimination laws,” he said. “But I think we still have a long, slow road ahead of us … Perhaps this case will act as an example for other [LGBT] people [in China].”
In 2014, a gay man from the southwestern city of Chongqing successfully sued a Chinese clinic he said administered electric shocks to “cure” him of his sexual orientation. The Haidian District People’s Court ordered the clinic to compensate the man with $2,300 for the therapy and his travel, lost earnings, and psychological and physical harm.