Supporters cheered the Sun Wenlin (left) and Hu Mingliang as they arrived at Furong District People's Court. Photo: AP
A district court from South China’s Hunan province ruled against a gay couple in a marriage right lawsuit on Wednesday, which the plaintiffs thought was “unjust” and said would appeal to a higher court.
"I think the result is unjust to me, but the good thing is that it has drawn public attention," Sun Wenlin said in an interview with Sino-US.com, adding that he would continue to fight for his right.
Shi Wenlong, Sun’s lawyer, told Sino-US.com that the ruling was within his expectation, but he still felt disappointed and sad.
"Although they (the defendant) win today, we will be the winner in the future," Shi said after the hearing.
"What is more important than the outcome of the lawsuit is that it has helped to spread the idea of same-sex marriage in our society," Li Yinhe, China’s renowned female sociologist and sexologist, said in an interview with Sino-US.com.
Sun, a 27-year-old gay from Furong district of Changsha city, Hunan province, and his boyfriend Hu Mingliang went to the local civil affairs bureau on June 23, 2015 for marriage registration, which was rejected by the bureau officer on the grounds that the Chinese law only recognizes a marriage between a man and a woman.
Sun, with a different understanding of the law, showed a prepared copy of relevant articles in the marriage law to the officer and claimed that the law neither stipulated a marriage must consist of a man and a woman, nor forbids same-sex people from marrying each other.
Failing to persuade the officer, Sun submitted an indictment against the bureau to the local court of Furong district on December 16. The couple received a summon from the court on January 5, which became the first case ever in China in which a same-sex couple took legal action for their marriage right, though they were not the first same-sex couple in China trying to register marriage.
On Wednesday, the court said that the civil affairs bureau has the right to censor the marriage application submitted by the citizens and it was legal for the civil affairs bureau of Furong district to reject Sun and Hu’s marriage registration application. The court based its judgment on the second, fifth and eighth article of China’s Marriage Law, and the fourth and seventh article of Regulations on Marriage Registration. The court turned down Sun’s appeal to get married with his boyfriend, and Sun was ordered to pay a legal cost of 50 yuan (about $7).
As Sun and Hu said the case did not involve privacy, the court opened the trial to the public. The hearing was held in the largest courtroom of the court and the court’s WeChat account said more than 100 people attended the hearing.
Sun’s case came at a moment when Chinese leaders are prioritizing social and economic reforms, and more and more LGBT people are raising their voices through the law.
The current Chinese law has few details on discrimination and sex-related topics, which not only makes it harder for the courts to make judgment sometimes, but also difficult for LGBT people to defend their rights, Liu Xiaonan, an associate professor at the China University of Political Science and Law, said in an earlier interview with Sino-US.com. But in recent years, Chinese lawyers and LGBT rights advocates have figured out many ways of promoting LGBT rights and raising public awareness.
Some of the key LGBT actions regarded as landmarks by Chinese media include: gay rights activists suing a counseling center which offered to cure homosexuality through “conversion therapy” in 2014; Fan Popo, an LGBT filmmaker, filing lawsuit against China’s top censor, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) in September 2015, demanding explanation for pulling down his film, Mama Rainbow, from mainstream video websites; a Chinese lesbian challenging the Ministry of Education over wrong descriptions of homosexuality in textbooks in November 2015; and a Chinese trans man suing his employer who had fired him for wearing men’s clothing in March 2016.
Such actions also came as China began to accept litigation through a registration system since last May, which is intended to guarantee litigants’ rights and promote transparency.
"Although we know that the problem will not be solved through only one case, it is indeed a huge progress that the hearing process was open to the public and the society," said Shi.
At around 9 o’clock Wednesday morning, Sun and Hu arrived at the gate of the court walking through a crowd of reporters and public gathered outside the court, holding a rainbow flag in hand and distributing wedding candies to the reporters. Sun said he would also give the candies to the judge and the defendant.
"No matter whether the civil affairs bureau accepts my registration or not, I long for marriage and I will hold a wedding ceremony. I want to thank everybody who cares about me and this case. I also hope you can support me," said Sun before the trial.
During the three-hour hearing on Wednesday, the focus was whether Sun and Hu can get married or not. While the defendant, vice director of the civil affairs bureau of Furong district, reiterated that only a man and a woman can get married, Sun argued that since the law doesn’t ban same-sex marriage, they should be free to get married.
The issue also triggered a wave on Sina Weibo, China’s largest social media, on Wednesday, under the hashtag First same-sex marriage right defense case. Most of the Weibo users showed their support to Sun and Hu and expressed optimism about legalization of same-sex marriage in China in the future. “Brave”, “good luck”, “support”, “historical moment” are the most commonly used words in the comments on the topic.
One of the comments which got over 12,000 likes read “although it is very likely that the plaintiff will lose, the future will be better as long as someone has taken the first step.”
According to an online poll conducted by news portal NetEase, 74% of the 32,457 people surveyed showed their support toward legalization of same-sex marriage in China, while 26% opposed it because they believe it violates the law of the nature.
Yet, some also expressed concerns about the future and called for legislation on same-sex marriage.
"Same-sex marriage will finally be legalized in China in the future. The problem is you don’t know when that day will come," one said.
"It is obvious that the same-sex marriage appeals will be rejected by the courts. But if we want to improve our law, we need many such efforts even if in vain," said another.