Sun, Jun 18, 2017 - Page 4 News List

FEATURE: Taiwan boosts Chinese gay marriage hopes

LONG WAY TO GO:Though buoyed by Taiwan’s decision, legalization is still a distant prospect in a nation where homosexuality was classified as a mental illness until 2001

AFP, SHANGHAI

Chatting excitedly as they try on their Chinese imperial-themed wedding outfits, Ren Weilian and Zhu Tiantian wedding outfits, Ren Weilian are as nervous as any couple as they prepare to exchange vows in their lesbian marriage.

China does not recognize same-sex unions, but that is not stopping couples like Ren and Zhu from tying the knot in informal ceremonies as the country’s sexual minorities quietly assert their rights.

That push was given a boost when Taiwan’s Council of Grand Justices last month ruled in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage, triggering a surge in online chatter among Chinese gays who hope that they, too, can someday legally get married.

“I feel it’s quite hard to host a same-sex wedding here because there will be many problems. But I just want us to be able to have our own wedding,” said Ren, 26, donning a yellow dress embroidered with phoenix designs.

Ren and Zhu are among several couples who are to unofficially wed aboard a five-day cruise from Shanghai to Japan that left port on Wednesday, organized by Chinese volunteers from US-founded Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).

The organization is to seek to register the same-sex unions in California, which allows them.

“Even though it might not mean much in China, it means a great deal to us,” Ren said just before embarking on the cruise. “At least someone can recognize us.”

However, many see signs of hope.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues are gaining traction in Chinese media and entertainment, and Shanghai’s ninth-annual gay-pride festival — China’s only one — is underway, though it is far more tame than its foreign counterparts.

LGBT discourse thrives online and the Chinese gay-dating app Blued claims the world’s largest user base, at 27 million, mostly in China.

A court in central China last year ruled against two men who sought legal recognition of their marriage, but that the case was heard was interpreted as a positive step.

However, campaigners admit legalization remains a distant prospect in a country where homosexuality was classified as a mental illness until 2001 and gays still enjoy few rights.

Tens of millions of Chinese stay “in the closet” or in sham heterosexual marriages because of parental pressure to produce a male heir.

Zhu herself previously married a man under family pressure. It lasted less than a year.

“It’s definitely very inspiring to see what’s happened in Taiwan and fueled a lot of hopes over here,” said James Yang wedding outfits, Ren Weilian (楊震), a UN Development Programme (UNDP) analyst focusing on LGBT issues.

However, he said there are “fundamental differences” between democratic Taiwan and China.

Official support in Taiwan for gender and LGBT equality is strong, while China lags, Yang said.

The control-obsessed ruling Chinese Communist Party also is extremely wary of giving space to individual communities.

“There’s definitely a long way to go. LGBT issues are simply not on the government agenda yet,” Yang said.

Many Chinese gays express hope Taiwan might allow them to wed there, but relevant laws remain to be drafted.

Some Chinese gays and lesbians are taking matters into their own hands with discreet wedding ceremonies like the cruise, although they have no legal basis.

Chinese opinion surveys indicate solid majorities, especially among young people, favor gay rights and even same-sex marriage.

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