In China's first-ever gay rights case, supporters see success in failing

Sun Wenlin sued the Chinese government for the right to marry his boyfriend Hu Mingliang. And despite losing his case in court, LGBT advocates see Sun's fight as a big step forward.

Sun Wenlin and his partner Hu Mingliang make their way to court to attend the trial over Sun's complaint against a civil affairs bureau for denying his right to marry in Changsha, Hunan province, China, April 13, 2016.

For the first time in China’s legal history, a same-sex couple sued the government for the right to marry.

Sun Wenlin, 27, from the Hunan province, sued a civil affairs bureau in December after being denied the right to marry his 37-year-old boyfriend Hu Mingliang last June. But after a brief, three hour hearing Wednesday, Sun’s request was denied. 

“The revelant 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 said in a statement. “Sun Wenlin and Hu Mingliang are both men, therefore their application doesn’t comply with the marriage regulations and law.” 

But Sun argues that China’s marriage law does not specifically prohibit same-sex marriage. Instead of defining marriage as one man and one woman, Sun says the court is misreading the law: It simply requires a consensus from both sides.

Sun assures supporters that he will not give up. “We will continue to appeal,” Sun tells the Guardian. “I think it is worthwhile. It catches people’s attention and it will help our opinions spread. What we are trying to achieve is freedom and equality.”

And gay-rights activists agree: Every public appeal for gay rights counts.

“Our government loves going with the tide,” PFLAG China founder Ah Qiang tells Vice News. “If there is enough of a media wave and people … are demanding it, there will be politicians working on it. There seems to be a surging call from society.” 

“If we win the case, it would be an unprecedented achievement for China’s LGBT community,” Sun told The Los Angeles Times before the hearing. “If we lose the case, it’s still better than if we did nothing. 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.”

Homosexuality was illegal in China until 1997 and then defined as a mental illness until 2001. Despite now being legal, same-sex relationships are still widely unaccepted in Chinese society. According to a 2015 Pew survey, 61 percent of Chinese say homosexuality is morally unacceptable. And because of the wide disapproval, local media reports that "fake marriages" (between a gay man and lesbian) are common in China, numbering at least 16 million

“Not marrying and having a kid is seen as abnormal by parents,” Wang Hijun, a lawyer from Hunan Province tells Vice. “There are also still conservative opinions – people who believe that being gay is like being a psychopath, something that needs to be corrected.”

The statistics on homosexuality in China vary within the country’s population of 1.3 billion. According to China’s health department in 2004, one in every 130 Chinese people are gay. But according to researcher Zhang Beichuan, this figure is a gross underestimate, with the true number of Chinese gays coming closer to at least one in every 32 people.

But for Sun, numbers are not what matters.

“Even if we were the only gay couple in the world, we should be allowed to marry!” Sun tells CNN. “It’s the basic human right and I ought to enjoy it.”

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