Chinese gay couple take legal action after same-sex marriage denied

Last week, Sun Wenlin, a 26-year old Chinese gay, submitted an indictment against a local civil affairs bureau, a government department, to the local court for rejection of his marriage registration with his boyfriend. This is the first time in China that a Chinese gay has gone to court to fight for same-sex marriage rights.

One month ago, Qiu Bai, a 21-year old Chinese lesbian, sued the Ministry of Education for description of homosexuality as mental illness in textbooks.

Legal ambiguity

As a government organ, one of the main functions of the civil affairs office is to register marriages. Sun, coming from Furong District of Changsha, capital of south China’s Hunan Province, went to the local civil affairs bureau for a marriage registration with his boyfriend on June 23. However, the official there denied their application on the ground that same-sex marriage was illegal in China.

“When my boyfriend and I first came in front of the staff in charge of the registration, she asked me where my girlfriend was. I answered by pointing at my boyfriend. I told them I will marry him,” Sun told, “She looked at me with surprise and said nothing. I asked her whether this is discrimination. She shook her head and let me wait for their leader.”

But their request received the same response from the director of the bureau, He Jianbin.

“He told me that I cannot register our marriage, because the law says only a man and a woman can get married,” Sun said.

Under the current Chinese law, marriages must be based on monogamy and willingness of the man and the woman.

“The law does not say the marriage can only take place between a man and a woman,” said Sun, arguing against He who said the meaning of monogamy was the marriage between one man and one woman, “Monogamy means the practice of being married to only one person. It is opposed to polygamy wherein a man can have multiple wives or vice versa.”

Another explanation He gave was that the marriage must be based on the complete willingness of the both sexes. This, however, was against Sun’s understanding of the marriage law.

“Both sexes should imply three situations:  a man and a man; a woman and a woman; and a man and a woman.   Otherwise the so-called ‘equality   of   men   and   women’ is false,” argued Sun, who described He’s attitude toward him as bureaucratic.

Claiming to have no power of law interpretation, He asked Sun to prosecute the bureau.

No official response

Sun’s case was accepted by lawyer Shi Fulong who was familiar with cases relating to civil rights. Shi was the second lawyer Sun had approached after lawyer Chen Nanshi who had agreed to take Sun’s case at first but was prevented by his law office in consideration of  “bad influence”  on the lawyer.

On December 16, Sun and his lawyer Shi brought the indictment to the Furong District court, the first step to ask the court to hear the case, and the only opportunity for Sun to solve his problem, though the official at the court refused to accept the indictment at the beginning, according to Sun and Shi.

Before Sun submitted the indictment he applied for a disclosure of government information to the civil affairs bureau of Furong District on July 10, asking the bureau to give him a written reply on why he was denied the marriage registration.

According to Regulations on the Disclosure of Government Information, which came into effect in May 2008, the governments should give relevant response within 15 days.

After not getting the response, Sun called the office of the bureau chief Huang Ping, which was answered by the secretary of the chief, who said the  bureau didn’t  receive  a letter from Sun, according to the recording of the conversation between Sun and the secretary provided to

“Since then, there wasn’t any response from the bureau. So, I thought I had to turn to the court. I want them to hear me,” he said.

One of the officials at the general office of civil affairs bureau contacted by said they didn’t receive the application and they didn’t know which department should be responsible for the information disclosure. So far, the chief of the bureau cannot be contacted.

According to Chinese law, the court of Furong District should respond to Sun’s indictment within seven days. But there had been no response from the court by press time.

Faith in future

“It  is hard to define whether  same-sex  marriage is legal or illegal in China, because the law doesn’t stipulate explicitly that same sexes cannot marry each other,” Shi told, “But the acknowledgment of the legality of same-sex marriage will still take a long time.”

While same-sex marriage became legal throughout the United  States in June 2015, after a century-long LGBT rights movement in the country, it is yet to be known when same-sex marriages will be allowed in China, where the description of homosexuality as hooliganism was deleted from criminal law for the first time in 1997.

Chinese socialist and sexologist Li Yinhe, who has been advocating for same-sex marriage since 2001, once said that it not only needed support from the government and the people but also the LGBT groups themselves. There are many other social issues facing China which is undergoing tremendous transformation, compared with which LGBT issue is not an urgent one for the top leaders, she said.

Sun and his boyfriend were not the first couple in China who went to the civil affairs office for marriage registration and were rejected, Sun said. But while others didn’t take legal action, they were the first to do so.

“Many people in China may think my action will make no difference, but for me, who grew up in this place, I don’t know when I can marry the man I love. Maybe it will take a very long time, and lots of money to fight for it. Who knows?” Sun said, “If the court does not give me a reply, I think I will keep suing. I believe the society will change some day in the future because of our action.”

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