US gay marriage ruling sparks debate in China

By Catherine Wong Tsoi-lai Source:Global Times Published: 2015-6-29 0:13:03

Chinese gay community ‘internalizes’ Confucian stress on family bloodline

The landmark US Supreme Court ruling to legalize gay marriage nationwide has sparked renewed debate across China over whether Chinese society should grant similar marriage equality and whether such rights are against traditional Confucian values.

A day after the US decision, Zeng Yi, a Professor of Philosophy at Tongji University, slammed the court ruling and US President Barack Obama's support for gay marriage as an "anti-human crime" in an article posted Saturday on news website

In the ruling, US Justice Anthony Kennedy cited ancient philosophers to prove that marriage is crucial to "the human condition." He wrote "Confucius taught that marriage lies at the foundation of government."

Zeng argued that homosexuality is against Confucian beliefs, which, as he interprets, see marriage as a way to pass on the family line. 

He also quoted from The Book of Rites, one of the Chinese Five Classics of the Confucian canon, which says that the "Marriage Ceremony is to unite two genders … and to produce offspring."

His point of view, however, was described by Li Yinhe, a leading Chinese sexologist and advocate of same-sex marriage, as "backward."

"The US ruling has been hailed by Chinese society and this will be a boost for the gay rights movement here. I've noticed that there are more heterosexuals who support [gay marriage]," Li told the Global Times on Sunday.

Ready for change?

A post discussing the legalization of same-sex marriage on Weibo had attracted over 7 million page views as of Sunday and 64,000 online users have participated in the discussion.

Didi Taxi, one of China's dominant taxi app firms, changed the icons on their app to rainbow colors as an implicit message of support for the gay rights movement.

"Compared to the individualism of Western culture, Chinese society's emphasis on family values and the continuation of the family bloodline could impede the development of gay rights," Li said.

"But on the other hand, Chinese society can be more equipped for the change as polls show that the legalization of same-sex marriage has not met strong opposition like it did in the US," she said. 

Research conducted by The Chinese Journal of Human Sexuality in 2014 showed that nearly 85 percent of the 921 respondents supported same-sex marriage, while about 2 percent of them oppose the idea, and 13 percent of them said "not sure."

Homosexuality was decriminalized in 1997 in China, and was later removed from an official list of mental illnesses.

A Shanghai-based scholar, who refused to be named, told the Global Times that he holds a different opinion.

"Homosexuality is a kind of impulsive act. The legalization of it means that the government is encouraging such impulsive acts which will bring a harmful influence to society, in particular to innocent teenagers," he said.

"The support for this American style of freedom has crossed the line [here in China]," he added.

Offspring argument

The online community on Sunday continued the debate, as an online user quoted from another Confucian work, The Mencius, which says "There are three types of impiety against your parents. Having no offspring is the worst of all."

But another Net user argued that the original meaning of the quote refers to the discontinuation of the family spirit, instead of the bloodline.

A Qiang (pseudonym), director of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) China, told the Global Times that in China, religious opposition to same-sex marriage is weaker in comparison to that in the West.

"The greatest opposition [to same-sex marriage] actually comes from parents who have high expectations of having grandchildren to continue the family line," he said. "This belief has been internalized by gay people here who think that having no children means that they cannot fulfill their filial piety." 

Despite these deep-rooted beliefs, A Qiang believes that the great strides in social acceptance made by China's LGBT community in the last two decades shows that there is a possibility that China could legalize same-sex marriage in the coming 10 to 20 years.

"The new generations are more open to different ideas in this Internet age. It is also important that more gay people come out of the closet to increase the understanding of homosexuality among their circles," he said.

The US decision brings to 21 the number of countries that recognize same-sex marriage, according to Pew Research Center data. Currently, no Asian nation recognizes same-sex marriages.

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