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Autor: Jade MacEwan
Photo: Jay on Unsplash

In only August of last year, after facing pressure to follow Taiwan’s lead in introducing marriage equality, Chinese government spokesman Zang Tiewei confirmed that same-sex marriage would not be legalised in China (PinkNews, 2019). But could there now be hope for same-sex couples in China who want to marry?

Only a few months after this announcement was made, the Chinese people were permitted to make suggestions of what they would like to be updated in the Civil Code. Over 190,000 out of nearly 200,000 people responded within one month with the same suggestion, and one which was a surprise not only to the Chinese government, but also to the Chinese LGBT+ community – they would like same-sex marriage to be legalised in China (Gay Star News, 2020). In the end, over 230,000 people showed support for same-sex marriage as part of this action (Advocate, 2020).

Although “homosexuality” was decriminalised in China 23 years ago, the country still does not have a good record on LGBT+ rights, and has no laws protecting LGBT+ people from discrimination on the basis of their gender or sexual identity (Reuters, 2019). In many parts of China, LGBT+ issues are considered a taboo subject, and a recent report showed that many Chinese LGBT+ people are being forced into so-called “conversion therapy” (Pink News, 2020). Pressure is often placed on young Chinese people to get married to a partner of the opposite sex. A national survey conducted by the UN found that two-thirds of sexual and gender minority respondents felt under a great amount of pressure from their families to marry and have children (UN, 2016).

In spite of this, there may be reason for optimism. The government has publicly accepted that legalisation of same-sex marriage has a lot of support amongst the Chinese people, and while this does not mean that the government supports marriage equality, it is a very positive sign that they have not explicitly opposed the idea. The government also accepted the UN Human Right’s Council’s recommendations on LGBT+ rights last year, which was the first time that they had done so (Reuters, 2019). In addition, a recent poll of 10 million people was carried out by the Chinese news site, which found that 66% of Chinese people are in favour of legalising same-sex marriage (Gay Star News, 2020). In the survey conducted by the UN, 70% of respondents did not support a prejudiced view of LGBT+ people, and 80% were in favour of laws to protect the rights of sexual minorities. This survey also showed a very high level of support for same-sex marriage, with 85% of people in favour of legalisation (UN, 2016). It would appear that the conservative attitudes of the Chinese people and the Chinese government may be changing in favour of better rights for LGBT+ people.

The government’s acknowledgment of public support for same-sex marriage is already making a difference in the lives of some Chinese LGBT+ people. Jiang Junjie came out to his parents during a visit for the Lunar New Year last year, and their reaction was even worse than he had expected. In fact, his father told him that he should never come home again. This Lunar New Year, however, Jiang had a great surprise – after he messaged his parents to tell them the news about the show of public support for same-sex marriage, his father called him and asked him to bring his boyfriend to visit for this Lunar New Year. What makes this invitation even more significant is that in the Chinese culture, bringing a partner home for a big holiday such as Lunar New Year generally means that the couple intend to marry in the future (Sixth Tone, 2020).

Activists such as the co-founder of the pro-LGBT+ nongovernmental organisation iFamily, Sun Wenlin, are also very optimistic in the wake of this news. In 2015, Sun lost a court case which he had filed for the right to marry his partner, and he had not expected the government to change their attitude towards same-sex marriage anytime in the near future. However, he now thinks that it might not take very long at all for same-sex marriage to become a reality in China (Sixth Tone, 2020).

Other activists don’t expect same-sex marriage to become legal anytime soon, but they are still optimistic about the changes in attitude towards this issue. Gao Qianhui from Shenzhen says, “I know it’s just a proposal and it’s most likely not going to be realized in the near future, but the fact this topic is now publicly and officially on the table gives the LGBT community hope for the first time after years of hiding and struggling” (Advocate, 2020).

While it may still take a long time for rights to improve and for same-sex marriage to brought into law in China, the fact that attitudes towards same-sex relationships are becoming more accepting and that marriage equality is being discussed gives the Chinese LGBT+ community a lot of hope for the future.

Links to resources:

Being LGBTI in China – A National Survey on Social Attitudes towards Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Gender Expression. (2016). United Nations Development Programme.

Reid-Smith, A. (2020-02-27). China is ready for same-sex marriage and it may actually happen. Gay Star News.

Ring, T. (2020-01-07). Chinese LGBTQ Activists See Hope for Marriage Equality. Advocate.

Smith, R. (2019-08-21). China just ruled out allowing same-sex marriage. Pink News.

Taylor, M. (2019-03-07). China urged to take action on LGBT+ rights after backing U.N. changes. Reuters.

Wakefield, L. (2020-01-08). China finally takes small step towards recognising same-sex marriage. Pink News.

Yiying, F. (2020-02-19). Amid the Epidemic, a Quiet Leap Forward for China’s LGBT Community. Sixth Tone.,-a-quiet-leap-forward-for-chinas-lgbt-community

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