In a groundbreaking hearing on Wednesday, a local Chinese court ruled that the government was correct in denying two gay men a marriage certificate.
The case was the first-ever same-sex marriage lawsuit accepted by a Chinese court.
After the hearing, Sun Wenlin, 26, and his boyfriend, Hu Mingliang, 36, walked out of the courthouse hand-in-hand. They told the hundreds of reporters and supporters waiting outside that they were saddened by the result, but that they had expected it. They said they will appeal the court’s ruling.
Sun Wenlin(right) and his boyfriend during an interview, in Changsha, Hunan province, Dec. 22, 2015. Wang Chen/Sixth Tone
Key to the April 13 hearing was the court’s interpretation of the phrase, “one husband and one wife,” as written in the Marriage Law of the People’s Republic of China. Shi Fulong, the couple’s attorney, argued that this means there can only be two people in a marriage, which does not exclude same-sex couples. But the government argued this phrasing means a man and a woman by pointing to another section of the marriage law that describes both parties involved in a marriage as “man and woman.”
In his final statement, Shi said, “Even if they win the case today, we will definitely win the future.”
The court concluded that, according to the marriage law, the two people involved in a marriage should be a man and a woman, that the law currently had no provision for same-sex couples, and that as such the government had correctly denied Sun and Hu’s marriage application. For these reasons, the court ruled against the couple.
The case was nevertheless seen as a landmark event. Peng Yanhui, who runs the Guangzhou-based gay rights group, LGBT Rights Advocacy, said the case “urged heterosexual people to think about why same-sex couples cannot get married.” He said that it gave the LGBT community confidence and encouraged them to be true to themselves.
Among the throngs of people lined up outside the Changsha Furong District People's Court was 45-year-old Hong Ying. A mother of a lesbian daughter, she believes the main effect of this case is that it gives the judges a vivid lesson in LGBT recognition. “What really matters is the popularization of LGBT knowledge among the authorities, which will help us win support and respect from them,” she told Sixth Tone by text message. “We need to let the civil affairs bureau know that many gays and lesbians want to get married.”
Sun and Hu applied for a marriage certificate at a registry in Changsha, capital of the central Chinese province of Hunan, on June 23, 2015. Their application was denied on the grounds that only marriages between one man and one woman are allowed in China.
Six months later, on Dec. 16, 2015, Sun and Hu filed a lawsuit against the civil affairs bureau of Changsha’s Furong District. The case was accepted by the Furong District People’s Court on Jan. 5, 2016.
Shi Fulong at the time called this “a historical moment” for the LGBT community.
In an interview with Sixth Tone on the day before the case, Sun said he did not expect their case would change how the authorities would treat the gay community, but that he hoped it would serve to educate them on LGBT issues. After the hearing, Sun could not be reached by Sixth Tone for further comment.
Sun and Hu’s lawsuit is not the first time Changsha has been a focal point for gay rights. In 2014, 19-year-old Xiang Xiaohan sued the Hunan’s civil affairs department after his application to register a gay rights organization, Same-Sex Love Assistance Network, was turned down.
With contributions from Shi Yi.
(Header image:Sun Wenlin(left) and his boyfriend walk hand in hand to a court in Changsha, Hunan province, April 13, 2016. VCG)