China: Gay couple loses fight to marry

A judge ruled today against a gay couple in China’s first same-sex marriage case.

The couple, Sun Wenlin and Hu Mingliang, sued a civil affairs bureau in Changsha, in Hunan province, after the office refused to allow them to marry when they tried to register in June 2015.

In a surprising move, a district court accepted the case this year, the first time a Chinese court had agreed to hear such a lawsuit. The court held a hearing this morning, and the judge issued a ruling after a few hours. News of the ruling began circulating on social media shortly afterward.

The case has galvanised some gay-rights advocates in China. Photographs and video taken in Changsha showed people gathering outside the courthouse today to support Sun and Hu.

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

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

Sun told his family that he is gay when he was 14 and 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.

Hu, 37, a security guard, met Sun through a chat group in 2014. They said they did not spend a day apart after their first meeting. They tried to register their marriage on the anniversary of their relationship.

A lawyer for the couple filed the lawsuit with the Changsha Furong District People’s Court on December 16. Court employees initially refused to accept the paperwork, but the court on January 5 said it would take the case.

The couple said that police officers had visited them in December, telling them that a married couple had a duty to have children. The officers told the couple 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,” Sun said in the interview in January. “They can get married and no longer face discrimination. Inside China, we still live a life like this. We can’t get married, and we suffer discrimination.”