Gay couple denied marriage licence continue fight for equality

Sun Wenlin and his partner Hu Mingliang were denied a marriage licence in the first such court case in the mainland. But that has only made Sun more determined to fight for marriage equality

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 February, 2017, 10:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 February, 2017, 12:57pm

Why did you sue the civil affairs authority in Changsha?

We think gay people should be entitled to the same rights as non-gay people. Discrimination brought by regulations that only a man and a woman can register their marriage while two men can’t should be eliminated. Although we don’t care whether other people recognise our relationship or marriage, a marriage certificate is, after all, a legal document, and it’s still important in many occasions. For example, if one of us gets ill and need emergency surgery, the other needs to sign documents, as his spouse, before surgery. Hospitals require a marriage certificate be presented. The certificate is also needed to decide wills. In June, 2015, Hu and I went to the Civil Affairs Bureau of Furong district in Changsha to register our marriage, but were turned down. Officials told me that if I had come with a woman, I would have been issued the certificate immediately.

e didn’t buy this and at the end of the year, we sued this bureau. We think that since China’s regulations don’t ban gay marriage, so it’s okay for us to marry. What’s more, we think the Marriage Law requires people to register themselves as “husband and wife”. We feel this stipulation is intended to prevent polygamy, rather than requiring a couple be a man and a woman. We lost the case. In April last year, we filed an appeal and lost again. Our lawsuit was handled by the district court and later by the Intermediate People’s Court of Changsha. In our opinion, the verdict should be decided by authorities at a higher level, given the importance of the issue.

Have authorities pressured you over the law suit?

At first, the district court refused to accept our case. Police officers visited my grandparents’ home and some grass-roots officials spoke with my father for 40 minutes. They wanted my relatives to persuade me to give up the lawsuit. Of course, I didn’t surrender to this pressure. Actually, I have extensive knowledge about how to deal with the government, as I am interested in civil rights and I have read many books and articles on the internet on the topic. I also like books about law, politics and philosophy. Another source of pressure cane from the public, some of whom left nasty comments on the internet. My case drew wide attention with many people saying vicious things about me. I hope the mainland public will become more tolerant of minorities.

What does your family think of your sexual orientation?

I told them at a family feast celebrating my grandma’s 70th birthday. An uncle jokingly asked whether I had a girlfriend and I firmly told him that I liked men. Everyone was stunned, except my father who was staring at me angrily. After the feast, I returned to my grandma’s home with about 10 relatives. Entering the room, my father kicked me and I fought back. My relatives dragged my father to another room before surrounding me and lashing out, saying being gay was a stigma on the whole family. The incident hurt me deeply and made me reclusive and I began to smoke. My academic performance at school also deteriorated.

How do you and Hu get along with each other’s family?

All of my relatives know Hu and he sometimes visits and joins us for a meal. It’s the same situation for me at his home. But I wouldn’t describe the treatment of both our families as very warm. I still don’t know what to talk about with his parents. In my family, my mother sees Hu as another son and she is the one who communicates most with him, followed by my grandma. When I am annoyed by my mother and don’t want to talk with her, I ask Hu to express my opinions to her.

What kinds of work did you do before this?

I was once a civil servant at the public security bureau. I also worked as a salesman and worked for an internet company. In recent years I ran a tea house catering to gay customers. Since last April, when our appeal failed, I have been campaigning for gay rights. After graduating from middle school, I studied for a year at Hunan University of Science and Technology in Xiangtan (湘潭). I dropped out because I found studying as an English major was boring.

Where does you funding for your activism come from?

I don’t want to release this information. Nor can I tell you whether it’s from domestic sources or overseas.