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China is ready for same-sex marriage and it may actually happen

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LGBT+ protest in Hong Kong.

China may get marriage equality faster than anyone thought – after the public called for it in huge numbers.

In late 2019, the country’s top legislative body allowed the public to make suggestions for an updated draft of China’s Civil Code.

And Chinese people replied with an avalance of submissions. Nearly 200,000 sent feedback in just one month.

But they surprised LGBT+ activists and the government alike with the most popular suggestion.

Over 190,000 of them made the same proposal: legalize same-sex marriage.

In the past, Chinese officials have been reluctant to address LGBT+ issues in public.

But this result was so overwhelming, they have now publicly acknowledged that legalizing gay marriage has huge popular support.

Sun Wenlin, co-founder of iFamily, a nongovernmental organization that promotes same-sex marriage in China, emphasized the significance of this when speaking to Chinese site Sixth Tone.

Sun said: ‘As far as I know, never in the history of Chinese legislation have so many people put forward so many opinions on one law.’

The 29-year-old has been campaigning for marriage since he was refused permission to wed his partner, Hu Mingliang in 2015. He took the matter to court but the government won.

Since then, he’s married Hu in a symbolic private ceremony and worked to normalize same-sex marriage in China. 

San added it was a ‘lot more positive’ that the government now greeted the idea with ‘neither support nor opposition’.

Same-sex marriage liberation for 1.4billion people

This is a significant change.

In the past, officials have been clear they oppose marriage equality. For example, in August 2019, government spokesperson Zang Tiewei, said male-female marriages are ‘consistent with our country’s national circumstances, history, and culture’.

And few expect China to legalize marriage immediately. But things are starting to move.

As PFLAG organizer Gao Bo put it: ‘We’ve been walking in the dark. Even if there’s just one star above our heads, we feel very bright and hopeful.’

He now hopes to unite and organize the LGBT+ community. Then, when the government indicates a positive attitude towards equal marriage, they will be ready to seize the opportunity.

If and when China does say ‘I do’, it will be the single biggest moment for marriage equality since the first weddings since the first same-sex weddings in Amsterdam at midnight on 1 April 2001.

Of course, many other countries have followed since then. But China’s total population of 1.4billion eclipses the number of people in all the other nations that have same-sex marriage.

And there’s another reason that LGBT+ community advocates are pleased.

It is still very hard to come out in a culture which puts so much emphasis on family duty. But the fact that the government and public are both softening towards LGBT+ rights may start to make that a little easier.

66% support for equal marriage

Meanwhile, there are other reasons to believe China could be open to marriage equality.

On the one hand, China is behind western countries in some LGBT+ rights. For example, there are no anti-discrimination laws to protect employees or consumers and no legal right to freedom of expression.

But at the same time, it has a de-facto ban on dangerous ‘gay cures’ or ‘conversion therapy’, one of only a handful of countries to do so.

Moreover, since 2017, Chinese law has allowed adults to appoint their own guardians by mutual agreement.

That has meant same-sex partners can choose each other as guardians. And that in turn opens up important rights to decide on medical and personal care, death and funeral arrangements, property management and maintaining their rights and interests.

Just as significantly, polling indicates that the public response to the government’s Civil Code consultation was not an isolated incident.

In December, Chinese news site ifeng.com polled 10million people and 66% of the respondents favored legalizing same-sex marriage.

It was such a strong result homophobic Chinese Christians became angry and worried. Indeed, they started to mobilize opposition on social media.

They are likely to the main enemies of progress for the LGBT+ community to overcome when the legislative battle really starts. They were also the main opponents in Taiwan, the first Asian country to make same-sex marriage possible.

And finally, China can look to its highly LGBT+ inclusive myths and history to support equal marriage. After all, this is the ancient culture that gave us gay emperors, dragons, generals and even a Rabbit God to oversee same-sex relationships.

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Author: Tris Reid-Smith

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