Marriage for crowdfunding

Being single is not an option in China

The Gay Pride in Changsha, in 2013. “That sort of event still touches a nerve and if your protest is very public, you might be arrested.”

In China, gays and lesbians often marry each other for the sake of convenience, according to lawyer Jingshu Zhu. That way, their families are happy and they are still entitled to social security benefits.

“In my country, matrimony is holy”, Jingshu Zhu (1990), a Chinese lawyer, explains. She was awarded her doctoral degree on Wednesday for her study of gay rights in China. “There’s a lot of pressure on young people to get married, and it only gets worse as you reach your late twenties. The implications are that you are leaving it too late. The views on family composition are very traditional: you must continue the bloodline. It’s important to have grandchildren.”

However, gay marriage is unknown in China. “There are so many disadvantages to being single that sham marriages are quite common and lesbian women will marry gay men.”

There are several reasons for these marriages of convenience. “It will make the relatives or an employer happy. Often, there’s a very practical reason too: money. It’s customary to give the bridal couple a large sum of money for their wedding. It’s like crowdfunding: if you marry, you can finally set up your own business or buy a house.”

Moreover, many social and tax schemes are linked to marriage under Chinese law. “For instance, in Shanghai, you can’t buy certain plots of land or buildings if you’re not married. If you don’t have a marriage licence, you can only register children if you pay a large fine.”

Zhu explains how the few attempts to establish gay marriage quickly broke down. “I’m not very optimistic that an institution that is the real, traditional cornerstone of Chinese society will be adapted.”

Is homosexuality accepted in China? “It’s hard to say”, Zhu replies. “The country is so big and there are huge regional differences. I’ve noticed a rise in the number of gay rights organisations, especially in the cities. The big cities have gay bars very like the ones in New York and Amsterdam.”

Nonetheless, homosexuality is still regarded by many Chinese as mental disorder. In 2014, a man sued a clinic that was supposed to cure homosexuality by administering electric shocks. “The court decided that homosexuality was not a mental illness and the clinic had to pay damages. So, you could say homosexuality is accepted, more or less, at least in legal terms.”

However, the consequences were rather bitter: “The clinic is now famous and demands higher fees for “curing” homosexuality.”

It’s difficult for LGBT activists to make themselves heard”, Zhu continues. “That applies in general to any protests in China. Some things are censured.” For example, in 2013, LGBT activists held a gay parade in the city of Changsha. People walked around waving rainbow flags and cautious kisses were exchanged but the organiser was arrested and thrown into prison for twelve days. “That sort of event still touches a nerve and if your protest is very public, you might be arrested.”

By Vincent Bongers

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