September 12, 2018 / 11:29 AM / 13 days ago

Chinese activists renew push for same-sex marriage in their thousands

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese activists are rallying in their thousands to renew a push for same-sex marriage, making use of a rare window of opportunity to suggest revisions to a draft piece of legislation to include legal protections for the gay community.

FILE PHOTO: Rainbow flags lie on the desk of Liu Yifu, an organiser of a 5.17 km run to mark International Day Against Homophobia in Beijing, China, May 17, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo

After decades of Communist prudery about sex of all kinds, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Chinese have in recent years been openly tackling bureaucracy, legal uncertainty and entrenched social norms to assert their place in society.

But unlike neighbouring, democratic Taiwan, whose decision last year to give same-sex couples the right to marry gave a fillip to the gay rights movement across Asia, China has not budged.

Two years after a Chinese court rejected his application to be legally married, Sun Wenlin is trying to galvanise the LGBT community by asking people to propose amendments to a draft civil code en masse.

The code, a piece of landmark legislation expected to be passed in 2020, was released last week by China’s parliament for two months of public comment.

The code makes changes on issues including sexual harassment, divorce and family planning, but does not further the rights of the LGBT community, Sun told Reuters.

On Monday, Sun posted on his WeChat account a guide for how to submit revisions to write the legalisation for same-sex marriage into the code.

Sun’s post went viral and started trending on the Twitter-like Weibo, with related hashtags being viewed 50 million times. Signatories to Sun’s campaign for same-sex marriage legalisation, launched last year, jumped from around 5,000 to over 20,000 in a day, he said.

FILE PHOTO: Supporters gather near the courthouse before the hearing in which a Chinese student lodged a suit against the Ministry of Education over school textbooks describing homosexuality as a mental disorder, in Beijing, China September 12, 2016. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj/File Photo

“I did not want to be reconciled to watching this law sit there silently without anyone paying attention,” he said.

“We don’t know how long we would have to wait for the next change to submit opinions on the civil code.”

The chance that suggested revisions to dozens of provisions will be accepted is “close to zero”, Sun said, but he is hopeful that discussion can push forward legal recognition.

The civil code drafting process can help protect LGBT rights in areas like childbirth and employment, according to Zhu Bao, a Beijing-based lawyer.

“Discussion of the provisions that have an impact on the legitimate interests of the community will make lawmakers face up to the existence of gender minorities,” he said.

Reuters was unable to locate contact details for parliament’s Standing Committee, which is in charge of legislation.

Individual legislators have occasionally in recent years proposed legislation during China’s annual meeting of parliament in March to legalise same-sex marriage, without success.

Despite thriving gay scenes in many big cities and growing awareness of LGBT issues, the community has repeatedly had to face-off with China’s censors in recent months. There are no laws against same-sex relations in China.

A ban - then reversal - of LGBT content by Weibo in April, followed by censoring of gay-themed content during the Eurovision Song Contest in May, have fuelled fears of a growing intolerance.

Editing by Nick Macfie

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