China court rules against same-sex couple's marriage application

Sun Wenlin (right) and his partner Hu Mingliang (left) leaving a courthouse after the Changsha Furong District People's Court ruled against the couple, on April 13, 2016.
Sun Wenlin (right) and his partner Hu Mingliang (left) leaving a courthouse after the Changsha Furong District People's Court ruled against the couple, on April 13, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

BEIJING (AFP) - A Chinese court ruled against two men seeking to marry, it said on Wednesday (April 13), as more sexual minorities push for equal rights in the country.

Sun Wenlin, 27, sued a civil affairs bureau after it refused to grant him and his partner, Hu Mingliang, a marriage certificate.

The Furong district court in Changsha, in the central province of Hunan, agreed in January to hear the case, a move many observers considered a landmark development in itself.

But the court quickly dismissed the suit after hearing it on Wednesday.

"According to our country's relevant marriage laws and regulations, marriage is only between a man and a woman," it said on an official social media account.

The couple's lawyer said they would appeal against the verdict.

"This is the first gay marriage case in China, and I believe there will be more gay people fighting for their rights in different ways," attorney Shi Fulong told AFP.

China's judicial system is firmly under the control of the Communist Party, and so-called politically sensitive rulings are rarely decided based purely on legal matters.

China officially decriminalised homosexuality only in 1997, and listed it as a mental illness for another four years.

More recently, tolerance has grown in larger Chinese cities, but conservative attitudes remain deeply ingrained and discrimination against gays and lesbians is common.

The same-sex marriage case is just the latest in an increasingly vocal tide advocating for equal rights for China's sexual minorities.

A tribunal in the south-western city of Guiyang is hearing a transgender discrimination suit where a man, identified only as Chen, who was born female, claimed he was fired from his job at a health clinic.

According to the Guiyang Evening News, a manager at the Ciming Medical Centre said: "Chen's appearance really didn't fit our standards." Chen is now claiming he was unfairly dismissed and is seeking 2,000 yuan (S$417) in compensation at a labour tribunal. He has also demanded an apology.

But the Changsha couple's lawyer remained upbeat about prospects for same-sex couples.

"We lost, but I think it is just a matter of time for same-sex partners being allowed to get married," Shi said.