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Chinese lawyers urge legal protection for gay partners

Updated: 2013-08-18 20:20
( Xinhua)

BEIJING - A group of lawyers are calling for legislation to provide homosexual partners in China with similar legal rights to opposite-sex couples.

"Same-sex couples should enjoy equal rights and responsibilities as civil marriages. In recent years, an increasing number of them have consulted us about the issue," said Liu Wei, a lawyer with the Beijing-based Angelo Chen Law Office.

Liu made the remarks at "2013 China LGBT Community Consultation", a conference organized by the United Nation Development Program over the weekend in Beijing. Liu has been working to promote rights of  minority group since 2004.

As Chinese homosexuals are not allowed to get legally married, they are excluded from a range of rights in property ownership, inheritance and child adoption, according to Liu.

In Shanghai, many homosexual people cannot own a home because the city has banned unmarried, non-native residents from purchasing property, Liu noted.

In addition, same-sex partners are not subject to provisions in the marriage law that require couples to maintain each other and prohibit bigamy and domestic violence, she said.

"It doesn't make sense that the law treats homosexual couples differently just because of their sexual orientation," she said.

Given that same-sex marriage significantly challenges the social tradition, Liu said, China should start by introducing "civil partnership" which have proved feasible in several other countries.

Liu and Huang Yizhi, another lawyer with Beijing's Ruifeng Law Office, presented the suggestions in a letter to the legislative affairs commission of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) on May 16 this year, a day before the International Day Against Homophobia.

The letter, signed by eight other lawyers from different parts of the country, has not received a reply, Huang said.

"We don't expect our proposal to be adopted by legislators at once. To be frank, the possibility is nearly zero," Huang said, "but we hope our appeal may prompt them and the public to pay attention to this issue," Huang said.

Half a year ago, more than 100 parents whose children are gay or lesbian openly appealed to the NPC, calling for the approval of homosexual marriage.

"These parents deeply worry about their children's future, since marriage brings a sense of security. They hope their children can enjoy legal rights attached to marriage," said Hu Zhijun, executive director of PFLAG China, an organization dedicated to eliminating the stigma attached to sexual minorities.

Li Yinhe, a prominent sociologist, has made several high-profile attempts to convince national legislators to legalize same-sex marriage in the past decade, but has seen little change.

Low visibility of homosexual people in society and ingrained social traditions are two key factors that have impeded legalization of same-sex marriage, although the public in general have been increasingly tolerant to the group, said Hu, a gay man in his 30s.

"Many people, including some legislators, haven't realized the existence of homosexuals. Therefore, they don't think same-sex marriage is a matter of urgency," Hu said.

In addition, skeptics are also concerned that children adopted by homosexual couples are likely to become gay or lesbian under their influence.

"That's simply ridiculous. I was born and raised by heterosexual parents, and my brothers and sisters are all heterosexual. Why am I gay?"  Hu refuted.

A side effect of the ban on same-sex marriage is that many straight people unwittingly married to homosexuals are struggling with loveless relationships.

Zhang Beichuan, a renowned sexologist, estimated China has at least 10 million "gay wives", as nearly 90 percent of Chinese gay men are already married to or will eventually marry heterosexual women.

Gay men chose to enter opposite-sex marriage mainly due to heavy pressure from their parents who firmly believe that forming a family and having a child are obligations for men, according to Zhang.

Homosexuality was removed from the Chinese Classification of Mental Disorders in 2001, after the World Health Organization did the same on May 17, 1990. However, stigma and discrimination still persists in many parts of the country.

In some less-developed areas, young homosexual people are forced by their parents to receive medical treatment to have their sexual orientation converted.

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