Recognition of same-sex unions in China

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Legal status of same-sex unions
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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.

In April 2017, the Hong Kong High Court ruled that the same-sex partners of government employees should receive the same benefits as heterosexuals partners, though the ruling was appealed in May 2017. In September, another Hong Kong court ruled that the same-sex partners of expatriates living in Hong Kong have the right to live in the territory as dependents, though this ruling was also appealed.

Immigration rights


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

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 was supposed to take effect on 1 September 2017 and would have offered the same-sex partners of government employees who married overseas the same benefits as heterosexual couples.[3][4] In May, however, the Hong Kong Government appealed the ruling.[5] The Court of Appeal began examining the case in December 2017.[6]

In another case, a Hong Kong court ruled in late September 2017 that the same-sex partner of a British expatriate has the right to live in the territory as a dependent.[7] The ruling was labelled "a big win" by Ray Chan, Hong Kong's first openly gay lawmaker. The Hong Kong Government appealed the ruling in November 2017.[8]

Same-sex marriage

Same-sex sexual activity legal
  Other type of partnership (or unregistered cohabitation)
  Foreign same-sex marriages recognized1
  No recognition of same-sex couples
  Restrictions on freedom of expression
Same-sex sexual activity illegal
  Not Enforced or unclear
  Life in prison
  Death penalty

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.[9][10]

The Chinese term tongqi (Chinese: 同妻) describes women who have married gay men. According to certain estimates from 2010, about 80% to 90% of Chinese gay men have married women. These marriages are sometimes called "sham marriages" and are mostly attributed to the fact that there is a big social pressure from family to heterosexually-marry and to found a family with someone of the opposite sex. In most of these cases, the women are unaware of their husbands' sexual orientation. In 2012, a professor at Sichuan University committed suicide after her husband came out as gay. The news prompted public awareness of the issue and reinforced the need for same-sex marriage. In some cases, lesbian women and gay men deliberately choose to marry.[11][12] LGBT groups are urging gay men not to give in to social pressure and enter these "sham marriages", as they are "a tragedy for both the gay men and the women."

In December 2017, the South China Morning Post editorial expressed support for the legalisation of same-sex marriage in Hong Kong, calling on the Government to show a greater commitment to equality.[13]

"First" same-sex marriage

On 13 January 2010, the 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.[14]

Legal challenges

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.[15] 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.[16] 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.[17]

Legal proposals

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.[18] In 2012, Li Yinhe launched a new campaign to raise support for same-sex marriage legislation.[19]

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.[20]

Government attitude

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.[21] 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.[22]

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.[23]

After the Taiwanese Constitutional Court ruled in May 2017 that banning same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, attitudes towards the legalisation of such marriages were largely positive on the popular Chinese social media site of Sina Weibo. Li Yinhe, a sociologist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, claimed that a majority of Chinese under the age of 35 approve of same-sex marriage. Pointing out that the average age of members of the National People's Congress is 49, she concluded that same-sex marriage is "only 14 years away". However, the Chinese Government moved to censor any news of the court ruling, not because of the issue of same-sex marriage, but because of the "alleged illegality of Taiwan's Government and courts".[24]

See also


  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. ^ Hong Kong gov’t appeals High Court ruling on marriage benefits for gay couple
  6. ^ Cheung, Karen (11 December 2017). "Court hears gov't's appeal after gay Hong Kong civil servant won spousal benefits for husband". Hong Kong Free Press. 
  7. ^ Hong Kong court issues landmark ruling in same-sex partner's visa appeal
  8. ^ Hong Kong criticised for refusing to accept visa ruling for British lesbian The Guardian, 2 November 2017
  9. ^ Kang Youwei 2010: Datong Shu. Beijing: Renmin Daxue chubanshe.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ LGBTQ rights in mainland China looking gloomy after Taiwan’s new ruling on same-sex marriage The Conversation
  12. ^ China rights: Gay people pledge not to enter into sham marriages BBC News
  13. ^ "Hong Kong must show greater commitment to equality". South China Morning Post. 12 December 2017. 
  14. ^ "China paper splashes nation's 'first gay marriage!'". 2010-01-13. Retrieved 2013-08-17. 
  15. ^ Gay man sues for right to marry in China’s first same-sex marriage lawsuit South China Morning Post, 6 January 2016
  16. ^ "Chinese Court Rules Against Gay Couple Seeking To Get Married". The Two-Way. 13 April 2016. 
  17. ^ Gay Couple Vows Wedding to Be First of Many
  18. ^ Gay marriage advocates ask legislators to present their proposals at the two sessions
  19. ^ Derek Yiu (2012-03-04). "Leading Chinese scholar seeking support for gay marriage bill again". Gay Star News. Retrieved 2013-08-17. 
  20. ^ Gay advocates hope leaders see marriage poll
  21. ^ "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. 
  22. ^ Intercountry Adoption | China | Who Can Adopt
  23. ^ Raymond Li [email protected] "Gay wife of Iceland's prime minister visits Beijing university". Retrieved 2013-08-17. 
  24. ^ Chinese attitudes towards gay rights
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