China court rules that gay couple cannot wed

Mr Sun Wenlin (right) and Mr Hu Mingliang leave a courthouse after the Changsha Furong District People's Court ruled against the couple in Changsha, China, on April 13, 2016.
Mr Sun Wenlin (right) and Mr Hu Mingliang leave a courthouse after the Changsha Furong District People's Court ruled against the couple in Changsha, China, on April 13, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

BEIJING • A judge yesterday ruled that a gay couple cannot marry in China's first same-sex marriage case.

The couple, Mr Sun Wenlin and Mr Hu Mingliang, sued a civil affairs bureau in Changsha city in Hunan province after the office refused to allow them to register their marriage in June last year.

In a surprising move, a district court accepted the case this year. It was the first time that a Chinese court had agreed to hear such a lawsuit.

The case has galvanised some gay rights advocates in China. Photographs and video showed people gathering outside the courthouse yesterday in support of the couple.

News of the ruling, which was issued a few hours after yesterday morning's hearing, began circulating on social media shortly after.

The couple said that police officers visited them in December, telling them a married couple had a duty to have children. The officers also told the couple that they were not acting on behalf of the court.

Some Chinese news organisations, including the English-language edition of the populist state- run Global Times newspaper, reported on the case over the winter.

"Whether I want to marry or not, it should be my right to decide," Mr Sun, 27, said in an interview with The New York Times in late January.

Mr Sun, who told his family he is gay when he was 14, has been a vocal supporter of gay rights. For eight months, he ran a teahouse in southern Changsha where he gave weekly talks on sexuality and identity.

He met Mr Hu, a 37-year-old security guard, through a chat group in 2014. They said they have not spent a day apart after their first meeting.

The lawsuit was filed on Dec 16. Court employees initially refused to accept the paperwork, but the court said on Jan 5 it would take the case.

The couple said that police officers visited them in December, telling them a married couple had a duty to have children. The officers also told the couple that they were not acting on behalf of the court.

"Around the world, in other places, gay people have joined forces to fight for their rights," Mr Sun said in the interview in January.

"They can get married and no longer face discrimination. In China, we still live a life like this. We can't get married, and we suffer discrimination."

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 14, 2016, with the headline 'China court rules that gay couple cannot wed'. Print Edition | Subscribe