To start their campaign for legalizing homosexual marriages in China, a gay couple has held a marriage ceremony despite a court ruling against it. Many believe the case shows a growing acceptance of LGBT rights in China.
"I hope that the world knows that there are homosexual people in China, and that we demand legally recognized marriages for homosexual couples," says 37-year-old Hu Mingliang, on one of the most important days of his life - his wedding.
In a restaurant in Changsha, the capital of central China's Hunan province, Hu Mingliang and Sun Wenlin exchanged their wedding rings, and received blessings from over 200 friends, relatives, as well as LGBT rights activists from around the country.
Marriage despite court rule
A month ago, Sun and Hu had to accept that a court in Changsha dismissed the suit brought against the civil affairs bureau for refusing to issue a marriage license to them. But that did not stop them from getting married.
So the couple decided to make the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO) their wedding day even though they are not able to officially register as a married couple. "We are very well-known in the homosexual community in China. But we believe that we must stand out to the public in order to gain support for LGBT rights movement," Hu told DW.
"We might not be able to change the negative perception society has on homosexuals, but we want to bravely admit that we love each other," Sun said in a statement announcing their plan to marry.
Hu and Sun's case has given optimism to many LGBT rights activists in China. After their request to register to marry was rejected by the local civil affairs bureau, they filed a lawsuit against the authroities' refusal. The court agreed to hear their case, and although the judge said in the ruling that only "a man and a woman" are allowed to get married under China's marriage law, the fact that the court agreed to hear the lawsuit was already unprecedented.
Their case did help bring international attention to the LGBT rights movement in China. A recent UNDP report says that social stigma towards sexual and gender minority people is still strong in the country.
The report titled "Being LGBTI in China: A National Survey on Social Attitudes towards Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Gender Expression" finds that only five percent of these minorities openly disclose their sexual orientation at school or at work. Those who disclose their identity often face higher levels of discrimination, especially from within the family.
"Most people have to face the pressure of their families' expectations to marry and have children," the report said: "[...] as estimated by the respondents, family members also show the lowest level of acceptance."
The report also says that many Chinese LGBT people submit to family pressures to marry and have children, and "many end up in heterosexual marriage" despite having a different sexual orientation.
Homosexual marriage campaign
In light of the still omnipresent discrimination and social pressure faced by Chinese LGBT people, Sun and Hu's ambition goes further than seeking self acknowledgment.
The couple's wedding is only the debut of a nationwide marriage marathon campaign, in which they are trying to crowdfund and organize 99 other wedding ceremonies for homosexual couples in China.
"The meaning of these weddings would be more than just getting blessings from friends and family; we also want the society to hear our voice and see our demand; we also want to deepen their understanding for homosexuals," the newly-weds stated on the webpage of their crowdfunding campaign. So far they have raised $2000 of their target of $12,255.
Positive online reaction
The wedding has been covered by a number of Chinese media. Tencent and Sohu, which provide online streaming services in China, both live broadcasted the wedding on their websites.
The news has mostly received support from Chinese netizens. Many comments on Weibo - China's equivalent of Twitter, say Sun and Hu are very brave to get married openely. Others point out that homosexuals should not be discriminated against.
"I didn't support it in the past. But now I think that this is basic human right, and they are not hurting anyone, so why should they be discriminated?" one Weibo user named "Call me Xiao Zhang" commented.
"I am looking forward to see a more diverse and open-minded culture in China, and a more tolerant society," says another Weibo user called Ruji.
But some Weibo users pointed out that it's not important whether the government accepts homosexual marriages or not. "Why would you need a certificate from the government? It's enough as long as you love each other," Skttka points out.