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Will China Legalize Gay Marriage Before the United States?

in CHINA, 24/04/2013

What if I told you China could legalize same-sex marriage before the U.S. does? You’d probably call me crazy. As of now, you’d probably be right. Shanghai is far from being a gay-paradise on the level of Amsterdam or San Francisco. However, China’s LGBT community has made remarkable strides in recent decades, and being home to the world’s largest population of LGBT individuals, what happens in China matters to the rest of the world’s queer community.

Last week, reported in the state-owned China Daily, a Guangzhou-based NGO representing 100 parents of gays and lesbians, or “comrades,” sent an open letter to China’s National People’s Congress, its formal legislature, urging adoption of same-sex marriage benefits. 

Sociologist and activist Li Yinhe has submitted a similar petition to the NPC each year since 2003. Although unsuccessful, she has raised national visibility of homosexuality and gay marriage, a topic that is now openly discussed in official media. And the recent state visit by Iceland’s openly-gay prime minister is giving hope to some in China’s gay community that homosexuality cannot be ignored by state media.

China decriminalized homosexuality in 1997, even before the U.S. removed all anti-sodomy laws in certain states. But today, there are no formal laws to prevent discrimination against LGBT Chinese, especially in the workplace. Since China’s ministry removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 2001, government policy and public opinion has also gradually shifted. Public health ministries have been targeting gay bars with public awareness campaigns advocating safe-sex and HIV-testing. But generally, LGBT Chinese now fall into an uncomfortably grey area: no longer directly harassed, but also ignored.

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