Despite Defeat in Court, LGBT Visibility Continues to Grow in China

Kerry Brodie

Yesterday, a court in China dismissed a man’s request to marry his male partner. While this is a setback for those fighting for equality, LGBT advocates agree that this case has raised the visibility of LGBT people in China. The plaintiff plans to continue his fight in court to marry his partner.

In January, Sun Wenlin filed a case against a civil affairs bureau in Hunan province after his application to marry his male partner was refused.  Many activists hailed the acceptance of Wenlin’s case as a momentous occasion for LGBT visibility in China. It was the first time a court had accepted a case of this kind.

At the time, Dan Zhou, a top legal expert and openly gay lawyer based in Shanghai, warned that the case was unlikely to lead to a change in the constitution, which defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman. In a message to HRC, Zhou explained that the Chinese legal system is not based on case law and courts do not have the power to conduct judicial review of the constitutionality of laws.

“The existent political and legal regime in China does not authorize any court at any level to alter the constitution or legislation passed by the National People’s Congress,” Zhou said.

The only way to achieve marriage equality in China would be to pass legislation in the National People’s Congress, which is not on its agenda at the moment. However, high profile cases, such as Wenlin’s, help advance LGBT visibility and empower the movement in its fight for equality.

LGBT people in China are becoming increasingly visible and less marginalized and they are making important social and legal progress. Even though homosexuality is not illegal, it was only removed from the Chinese Classification of Mental Disorders in 2001. LGBT people continue to lack any formal legal recognition or protections from discrimination from families, at school, at work and elsewhere.

More information about the situation for LGBT people in China can be found in our Global Spotlight report LGBT China Today: Surprising Progress yet Daunting Obstacles.

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