Man fights for right to marry boyfriend despite high chance of failure

By Xu Ming Source:Global Times Published: 2016-1-22 5:03:02

Sun Wenlin stands in front of the court in Furong district, Changsha. Photo: Courtesy of Sun Wenlin

As a man who likes to keep a low profile, Sun Wenlin never expected to attract nationwide attention due to his simple wish to get married.

Last December, the 27-year-old from Changsha, Central China's Hunan Province sued the local bureau of civil affairs after his demand for a registered or licensed marriage with his boyfriend was rejected. Half a month later, Sun received notice from the local court telling him that his case had been filed, making it the first case in China of someone seeking a same-sex marriage through the courts.

"Now, as the first person to do this in China, I feel it is not just my own business anymore. It has turned into a case with social significance," Sun told the Global Times. "Standing in this position, I hope to go ahead even further, so that those who follow will find the path easier."

The first step

Sun Wenlin (right) and his boyfriend Photo: Courtesy of Sun Wenlin

Sun is not the kind of man who likes to make waves. Though he has been out of the closet for more than 10 years, Sun has been living a low-profile life and seldom engaged in LGBT activism. At most, he would help spread LGBT-related news when it came out. In particular, he used to be perfectly happy with being single. But all this changed when he met his boyfriend.

"I felt fine living by myself. I thought I would grow old and die alone," said Sun.

"I don't mind others misunderstanding our love. We know it ourselves. For those who don't understand our romance, I hope they see us as a family. Now I only want to be his family," explained Sun.

Last June, on the first anniversary of their relationship, Sun and his boyfriend went to the bureau of civil affairs in Changsha's Furong district to get legally married, but were refused. The bureau official said only a man and a woman could get married.

According to Sun, he knew beforehand that they might be the first gay couple in Changsha to request a marriage and anticipated the difficulty, so he brought the Marriage Law and relevant documents with him. But after arguing with officials for over an hour, he realized his efforts were in vain.

"As I understand it, our law does not say that same-sex marriage is illegal. It never mentions if same-sex marriage is legal or not. People just see the law as only allowing heterosexual unions," said Sun.

He tried to negotiate with the officials and debate, but his efforts were fruitless. Eventually, he resorted to legal measures and submitted a complaint against the local bureau of civil affairs to a local court in December.

"The Marriage Law stresses freedom and equality. It mentions what kind of marriage is legal, but it is illogical to deduce that other kinds of marriage are thus illegal," said Sun.

Challenging authority

It is not the first time that Sun has chosen to fight against authority. Sun came out of the closet when he was only 14, declaring his sexuality to his closest family members.

He at first told his grandmother that he liked boys, but she thought he was joking. Several days later, he gathered the courage to tell his father, but he simply ignored him.

To show he was serious, Sun announced the fact at his grandmother's 70th birthday party, in front of many of his father's friends. He and his father had a fight after the party.

This was followed by an almost 10-year cold war between Sun and his father, during which they seldom talked to each other. For a while, he was so depressed that his mental health was severely affected. 

"What does not kill you makes you stronger," recollected Sun, saying that he has no regrets.

Now, 13 years on, his family members all understand and support him. Sun's mother was at first shocked when he came out, but after a long talk with her son several years ago, she started to accept it. "Now she is very active in supporting LGBT people," said Sun.

In 2014, Sun opened a tea house in Changsha to provide a space for gay people to meet. His mother invited her friends to one talk he gave, and encouraged gay people to give lectures or at least declare their sexuality.

"We are in the minority as gay people. That's precisely the reason we need to be braver than others," he said.

But he does not suggest that everyone follow suit and confess to their families in this way, because "people are different in accepting such things."

Recorded in history

After filing the case, Sun said he felt like he was in the spotlight as it prompted nationwide discussion and more and more people are paying attention. But he considers this to be good thing.

"Few people paid attention when we went to the bureau of civil affairs or when I negotiated with the local government. It is wonderful to have so many people discussing it, because the more we discuss it, the clearer the issue will become," Sun said.

He is glad to see that many people, including LGBT groups, are supporting him in this fight. But at the same time, there are different voices that include sharp criticisms and even personal attacks. Sun said that he had been collecting these different opinions, and will try to rebut them one by one.

"I realized that besides changing the system, it is equally important to educate people and change their minds," said Sun, "You need to respect people's freedom in how they think and behave."

His lawyer, Shi Fulong, points out that the fact that the case was filed at all is a sign of legal progress and the case "will be recorded in history" whatever the result.

But Shi admitted to the Global Times that "he is not optimistic about Sun winning," without a high-level political decision. Many lawyers have also said that it is impossible for Sun to win, but that is not holding him back.

He plans to continue to appeal if he fails in his case, which will be heard on January 28. Then, regardless of the result of the second trial, he will hold a wedding with his boyfriend.

Sun also plans to hand in a letter to the National People's Congress during the coming legislative session in March, in which he will advocate improvements to the Marriage Law. "I hope it can become more neutral and cover not only heterosexuals."

"I need to go as far as I can as a pioneer, so that those who follow me don't need to experience these difficulties any more," said Sun.

Newspaper headline: Controversial proposal

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