Recognition of same-sex unions in China
China recognizes neither same-sex marriage nor civil unions. While China does not have any same-sex union recognition laws, Beijing currently provides dependent residency status to the same-sex foreign partners of legal foreign residents. It is not clear whether this extends to the foreign partner of a local Chinese resident.
In 2013, beginning on 1 July, same-sex partners (including married couples) of current residents became eligible for residency status in Beijing, under a "dependent resident status". This law only applies to the municipality of Beijing. The key beneficiaries were expected to be white-collar foreign expats whose partners and spouses were able to accompany them and gain residency status in Beijing as a result of the law.
In 2014, Hong Kong immigration officer Angus Leung Chun-kwong married his same-sex partner, Scott Adams, in New Zealand. After the wedding, Leung attempted to update his marital status with the Civil Service Bureau, which states that officers' benefits can extend to their spouses. The Bureau, however, rejected Leung's attempts to extend these benefits to Adams, prompting a legal challenge. On 28 April 2017, the Hong Kong High Court ruled in Leung's favour. In his landmark ruling, Mr Justice Anderson Chow Ka-ming called the Bureau's policy "indirect discrimination" and rejected its claim that it had "to act in line with the prevailing marriage law of Hong Kong" and that extending benefits to Leung's spouse would "undermine the integrity of the institution of marriage". The ruling was supposed to take effect on 1 September 2017 and would have offered the same-sex partners of government employees who married overseas the same benefits as heterosexual couples. In May, however, the Hong Kong Government appealed the ruling. The Court of Appeal began examining the case in December 2017, and ruled against the couple on 1 June 2018. The Court of Appeal ruled that there is "legitimate aim" to protect opposite-sex marriage, arguing that only straight couples should enjoy the "freedom of marriage" and that same-sex couples should have no marital rights whatsoever. The Court also stated that Leung and Adams could not pay taxes as a couple.
In another case, a Hong Kong court ruled in late September 2017 that the British same-sex partner of an expatriate worker has the right to live in the territory as a dependent. The ruling was labelled "a big win" by Ray Chan, Hong Kong's first openly gay lawmaker. The Hong Kong Government appealed the ruling in November 2017, and it was upheld in July 2018 by the Court of Final Appeal.
Although same-sex unions have not formed part of the historical Chinese cultural tradition, the earliest known advocate of same-sex unions was the 19th to 20th Century utopian reformer, Kang Youwei, who advocated temporary marriage contracts, lasting up for a year. These contracts would be for same-sex couples, as well as for heterosexual couples. However, he did not believe that China was ready for such a historic step, and deferred this policy until the future 'Datong' Utopia.
The Chinese term tongqi (Chinese: 同妻) describes women who have married gay men. According to certain estimates from 2010, about 80% to 90% of Chinese gay men were married to women. These marriages are sometimes called "sham marriages" and are mostly attributed to the fact that there is a big social pressure from family to heterosexually-marry and to found a family with someone of the opposite sex. In most of these cases, the women are unaware of their husbands' sexual orientation. In 2012, a professor at Sichuan University committed suicide after her husband came out as gay. The news prompted public awareness of the issue and reinforced the need for same-sex marriage. In some cases, lesbian women and gay men deliberately choose to marry. LGBT groups are urging gay men not to give in to social pressure and enter these "sham marriages", as they are "a tragedy for both the gay men and the women."
In December 2017, the South China Morning Post editorial expressed support for the legalisation of same-sex marriage in Hong Kong, calling on the Government to show a greater commitment to equality.
"First" same-sex marriage
On 13 January 2010, the China Daily published a front-page splash photo of a Chinese couple, Zeng Anquan, a divorced architect aged 45, and Pan Wenjie, a demobilized PLA soldier aged 27, being married at a gay bar in Chengdu. The marriage is understood as having no legal basis in the country, and the families of both men reacted negatively to the news of their marriage.
On 5 January 2016, a court in Changsha, southern Hunan Province, agreed to hear the lawsuit of 26-year-old Sun Wenlin filed in December 2015 against the Bureau of Civil Affairs of Furong District for its June 2015 refusal to let him marry his 36-year-old male partner, Hu Mingliang. On 13 April 2016, with hundreds of same-sex marriage supporters outside, the Changsha court ruled against Sun, who vowed to appeal, citing the importance of his case for LGBT progress in China. On May 17, 2016, Sun and Hu were married in a private ceremony in Changsha, expressing their intention to organize another 99 same-sex weddings across the country in order to normalize same-sex marriage in China.
The Marriage Law of the People's Republic of China (Chinese: 中华人民共和国婚姻法) explicitly defines marriage as the union between one man and one woman. No other form of civil union is recognized.
Li Yinhe (Chinese: 李银河), a sexology scholar well known in the Chinese LGBT community, proposed the Chinese Same-Sex Marriage Bill (Chinese: 中国同性婚姻提案) as an amendment to the marriage law to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2008. All four proposals failed because she was unable to find enough cosponsors for a placement on the agenda. Li Yinhe, however, pledged to "continue proposing the bill until it is passed". In 2008, supporters of LGBT rights launched a campaign to collect signatures calling for recognition of same-sex marriage. In 2012, Li Yinhe launched a new campaign to raise support for same-sex marriage legislation.
In addition to national recognition, there have been unsuccessful attempts made towards allowing same-sex marriage in the provinces. In early 2010, lawyer Zhu Lieyu submitted a plan to the Guangdong People's Congress in an attempt to legalize same-sex unions in the province, however, the bill was never carried to a vote.
The attitude of the Chinese Government towards homosexuality is believed to be "three nos": "No approval; no disapproval; no promotion." The Ministry of Health officially removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses in 2001, but same-sex marriage is still not considered. A government spokesperson, when asked about Li Yinhe's same-sex marriage proposal, said that same-sex marriage was still too "ahead of time" for China. He argued that same-sex marriage was not recognized even in many Western countries, which are considered much more liberal in social issues than China. This statement is understood as an implication that the Government may consider recognition of same-sex marriage in the long run, but not in the near future.
In addition, the Chinese Government requires parents adopting children from China to be in heterosexual marriages.
The Chinese Government did invite Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, then Prime Minister of Iceland, and her wife Jónína Leósdóttir on an official state visit in April 2013. Jónína was largely absent from official media coverage of the visit but she was fully recognized as the wife of the Prime Minister and was received as such at official functions, official residences and a reception at Beijing Foreign Studies University.
After the Taiwanese Constitutional Court ruled in May 2017 that banning same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, attitudes towards the legalisation of such marriages were largely positive on the popular Chinese social media site of Sina Weibo. Li Yinhe, a sociologist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, claimed that a majority of Chinese under the age of 35 approve of same-sex marriage. Pointing out that the average age of members of the National People's Congress is 49, she concluded that same-sex marriage is "only 14 years away". However, the Chinese Government moved to censor any news of the court ruling, not because of the issue of same-sex marriage, but because of the "alleged illegality of Taiwan's Government and courts".
A 2014 survey found that 74% of Hong Kong residents supported granting same-sex couples either all or some of the benefits associated with marriage.
- LGBT rights in China
- Homosexuality in China: Same-sex marriage
- Same-sex marriage in Taiwan
- Recognition of same-sex unions in Asia
- Hong Kong Top Court Grants Visa Rights to Same-Sex Partners
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