My Take

Signs of hope for gays on the mainland

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 February, 2013, 4:55am

A young lesbian couple in Beijing complained they were treated with disrespect and were snubbed this week when they went to a district marriage registry to try and marry legally. They decided to publicise their misadventure at the registry in a bid to challenge the law - which does not recognise gay marriage - and raise awareness.

What is interesting, perhaps, is that it was the two lovers who badgered the hapless official and berated him for ignoring their request, rather than the other way round. He reportedly retreated into a back room to escape their ire.

You can read the news story as indicative of discrimination against gays and lesbians and a lack of rights and legal recognition for them. Or it may demonstrate an increasing openness and tolerance for homosexuality on the mainland where gay couples can, at least in cosmopolitan cities like Beijing, be open about their sexuality. Without doubt, discrimination, on-the-job harassment and other obstacles remain for gays on the mainland, but their situation has undeniably improved since the late 1990s when homosexuality was decriminalised, followed by it being taken off the official list of mental illnesses.

The lesbian couple was understandably upset, but as gay marriage is not recognised on the mainland, there was nothing the official they badgered could do. As for his being rude and unhelpful, well, what did they expect from functionaries at public service offices on the mainland?

The latest incident followed another case in which an elderly male couple posted intimate photos and video clips of themselves on the internet and then hosted a wedding banquet with two dozen friends at a Beijing restaurant to celebrate their "marriage". But the son of one of the partners was so upset by the spectacle that he disrupted the banquet and smashed up the place.

More societies have recognised gay marriage. China is not one of them yet, but it is showing greater tolerance. Gay people and activists should continue to press for recognition. Their fight will take time and patience, but hopefully it will not endanger their safety.

Religious people may object to gay marriage, but modern secular societies can and should recognise it with the full force of the law.