Scholars struggle to put gay marriage in spotlight

By Shan Juan (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-10-08 07:19

While their old school friends are walking up the aisle, China's homosexuals have been left on the shelf.

Despite the nation's rapid development, society remains deeply conservative, and gay weddings are unimaginable for the majority of citizens.

But a new generation of scholars is challenging the idea that marriage can only ever be between a man and a woman.

Professor Li Yinhe, a sociologist and gay rights campaigner, is leading the call for marriage and other rights for the nation's 40 million homosexuals.

With any discussion of sex in public still deeply taboo, and homosexuals often ostracized, many people have been outraged by her proposals.

However, Professor Li has been echoed by Dr Zhang Beichuan, China's leading scholar of homosexuality.

Legal unions for homosexuals will lead to more stable same-sex relationships, notes Zhang, adding that they will also help better protect the legitimate rights of same sex lovers, especially the right to inherit their deceased partner's goods.

But Zhou Dan, a Shanghai lawyer who is open about being a "comrade" (a euphemism for a homosexual), thinks otherwise.

Zhou has lived with his long-term lover for many years. Many would expect him to be a supporter of gay marriage, but Zhou remains non-committal.

"Personally, I do appreciate Professor Li for her bravery in calling for equal rights for homosexuals," Zhou noted. "But I think demanding marriage for 'comrades' is more of a strategy rather than a realistic target."

Countries including the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, the United Kingdom and South Africa now recognize same sex marriage, according to Zhou.

However, he believes China still has a long way to go before homosexuals have the right to wed. For starters China still lags behind other countries in terms of anti-discrimination laws necessary to protect homosexuals, he said.

"The government can't simply allow gay marriages. The whole legal climate surrounding homosexual relationships needs to change," Zhou said. "Only when the whole of society understands homosexuals, can we start talking about gay marriage.

"Currently even if the authorities give their support to gay marriage, society is too hostile for homosexuals to publicly tie the knot," Zhou added.

For homosexuals in China, legal marriage is a want, not a must, unlike welfare and insurance policies, said Zhou, citing the situation in other countries where a citizen's welfare benefits can be shared with his or her legal spouse.

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