Chinese Court Rules Against Same-Sex Couple, But They Aren’t Giving Up

In this photo taken Tuesday, April 12, 2016, Sun Wenlin, right, sits with his partner Hu Mingliang at home a day before going to court to argue in China’s first gay marriage case in Changsha in central China’s Hunan province. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/GERRY SHIH

A Chinese court ruled against a gay couple who was seeking the right to marry on Wednesday — arguing that Chinese law defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

The couple, 27-year-old Sun Wenlin and his 37-year-old boyfriend Hu Mingliang, first tried to register their marriage at a local civil affairs bureau in Hunan province, in the south of the country, last June, but they were told by an employee that same-sex marriage was not allowed under Chinese law. In January, a court agreed to hear their case — making it the first in the country addressing same-sex marriage.

The court announced its ruling Wednesday afternoon. “The relevant regulations and law clearly stated the subject of marriage refers to a man and a woman who meet the legal conditions of marriage,” the court wrote in a statement online after the case, as translated by the Los Angeles Times. “Sun Wenlin and Hu Mingliang are both men, therefore their application doesn’t comply with the marriage regulations and law. The grounds of Sun Wenlin’s and Hu Mingliang’s appeal cannot be established. In summary, the court dismissed their litigation requests according to the law.”

Sun has argued that Chinese marriage law does not specifically refer to a man and a woman — but rather, a husband and a wife — and thus there isn’t actually an explicit ban on gay marriage in the law. “I personally believe that this [language] refers not only to heterosexual couples but also to same-sex couples, to gay men and lesbians,” Sun told Chinese newspaper Global Times when the court first announced it would hear the case in January. “The law is not discriminatory.”

In an interview with the New York Times, Sun said that he and his boyfriend made this argument during the hearing, but the civil affairs bureau that rejected their marriage “just kept repeating articles that mention ‘a man and a woman.’” The bureau pointed to three articles from Chinese marriage law and two articles from the official marriage registration regulation to make their case, said Sun. Four of those articles mentioned “a man and a woman,” while one said that a civil affairs bureau is not required to accept marriage applications if it believes a couple is not qualified to marry.

“But the fact that marriage between a man and a woman is legal does not suggest that marriage between two men is illegal,” said Sun. “This is illogical. I asked them to name one article that explicitly bans marriage between two men, but they never answered my question directly.”

China decriminalized homosexuality in 1997, and the Chinese Society of Psychiatry stopped classifying it as a mental illness four years later. Still, there is no law in the country to address discrimination against LGBT people — and many in the community continue to file cases alleging discrimination.

“If we lose the case, it’s still better than if we did nothing,” Sun told the Los Angeles Times in an interview before the ruling was announced. “If you don’t knock on the door, the door will be closed to you forever. But once you knock on the door, you can knock on it for a second and third time, and there’s a chance the door will finally open someday.”

Sun and Hu plan to appeal the case — and like Sun, their lawyer, Shi Fulong, also has hope that things will change. “The gay rights movement has gone from being underground to being in the open thanks to an increasingly tolerant public,” he told CNN after the court’s ruling. “Things will be better as society becomes more open.”