Recognition of same-sex unions in China

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Legal status of same-sex unions
  1. Same-sex marriage legal throughout Danish Realm though law in Faroe Islands not yet in effect
  2. Marriages performed in some municipalities and recognized by the state
  3. For some purposes only
  4. When performed in Mexican states that have legalized same-sex marriage
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* Not yet in effect

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China recognizes neither same-sex marriage nor civil unions. A poll conducted in 2009 showed that over 30% of the Beijing population supports same-sex marriage, while the rest were unsure or opposed.[1] 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. Beginning in September 2017, Hong Kong will offer the same-sex partners of government employees the same benefits as heterosexuals partners.

Immigration rights[edit]


In 2013, beginning 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.[2]

Hong Kong[edit]

In 2014, Hong Kong immigration officer Leung Chun-kwong married his same-sex partner 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 his spouse, 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 will take effect on 1 September 2017 and will offer the same-sex partners of government employees who married overseas the same benefits as heterosexual couples.[3][4]

Same-sex marriage[edit]

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.[5][6]

"First" same-sex marriage[edit]

On 13 January 2010, 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.[7]

Legal challenges[edit]

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.[8] On 13 April 2016, with hundreds of same-sex marriage supporters outside, a Changsha court ruled against Sun, who vowed to appeal, citing the importance of his case for LGBT progress in China.[9] 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.[10]

Legal proposals[edit]

The Marriage Law of the People's Republic of China 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 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.[11] In 2012, Li Yinhe launched a new campaign to raise support for same-sex marriage legislation.[12]

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.[13]

Government attitude[edit]

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.[14] 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.[15]

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.[16]


  1. ^ Tania Branigan in Beijing (2009-02-25). "Gay rights China Beijing". London: Guardian. Retrieved 2013-08-17. 
  2. ^ "CHINA - New Regulations for Foreigners in Beijing Starting July 1, 2013". Retrieved 2013-08-17. 
  3. ^ Landmark win for gay Hong Kong civil servant over husband’s benefits
  4. ^ More gay Hong Kong civil servants could marry abroad for spousal benefits, union says
  5. ^ Kang Youwei 2010: Datong Shu. Beijing: Renmin Daxue chubanshe.
  6. ^ Kang Youwei 1958/2005: Ta T'ung Shu: the One-World philosophy of Kang Yu-wei. Translated by Lawrence Thompson. London: George Allen and Unwin.
  7. ^ "China paper splashes nation's 'first gay marriage!'". 2010-01-13. Retrieved 2013-08-17. 
  8. ^ Gay man sues for right to marry in China’s first same-sex marriage lawsuit South China Morning Post, 6 January 2016
  9. ^ "Chinese Court Rules Against Gay Couple Seeking To Get Married". The Two-Way. 13 April 2016. 
  10. ^ Gay Couple Vows Wedding to Be First of Many
  11. ^ Gay marriage advocates ask legislators to present their proposals at the two sessions
  12. ^ Derek Yiu (2012-03-04). "Leading Chinese scholar seeking support for gay marriage bill again". Gay Star News. Retrieved 2013-08-17. 
  13. ^ Gay advocates hope leaders see marriage poll
  14. ^ "政协发言人称同性婚姻太超前 李银河提案再受挫_新闻中心_新浪网". Retrieved 2013-08-17. 
  15. ^ Intercountry Adoption | China | Who Can Adopt
  16. ^ Raymond Li "Gay wife of Iceland's prime minister visits Beijing university". Retrieved 2013-08-17. 

See also[edit]