China seen by LGBT+ groups as years away from same-sex marriage

Michael Taylor, Reuters

Posted at May 31 2019 07:20 AM

KUALA LUMPUR - China is at least a decade away from allowing same-sex marriages with the current priorities on introducing anti-discrimination laws, letting LGBT+ groups raise awareness without fear, and banning conversion therapy, LGBT+ campaigners said on Thursday.

Taiwan's parliament this month legalized same-sex marriage and more than 360 gay couples married on May 24 after years of debate over marriage equality that has divided the self-ruled and democratic island.

But China, which claims Taiwan as its own sacred territory and has a thriving gay scene in major cities, on Wednesday said that it would not follow Taiwan's example.

Hu Zhijun, executive director of LGBT+ advocacy PFLAG China in Guangzhou, said this came as no surprise as he did not expect China to back same-sex marriage during the next decade.

"China's current social acceptance is still relatively low - there is no broad basis for support - same-sex marriage will not be passed in a short period of time," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Socially conservative attitudes prevail across Asia, with Myanmar, Malaysia and Singapore banning sexual relationships between men, while Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim-majority country, has seen a spike in LGBT+ raids recently.

Thailand has drafted a civil partnership bill while Vietnam allows gay marriage ceremonies but couples do not enjoy the same legal protections as heterosexuals.

In China there are no laws against same-sex relations and there is growing awareness of LGBT+ issues but the country does not ban conversion therapy and homosexuality was listed as a mental disorder until 2001.

Doriane Lau, researcher at Amnesty International in Hong Kong, said LGBT+ communities in China had little rights protection.

"There is no law banning discrimination on grounds of sexuality and gender identities," she said.

"Conversion therapy is still commonplace. Many psychology and psychiatry textbooks still identify being LGBT as an illness that can be 'cured'."

While domestic LGBT+ groups are trying to raise awareness and work with the government, the space for them has shrunk, Lau said, with large-scale LGBT events called off and high school rainbow activities banned.

Yanzi Peng, a director at LGBT Rights Advocacy China, said institutional discrimination against LGBT+ people - through marriage laws, education policy, and media censorship - had shaped a negative attitude among LGBT+ people in China.

For political reasons, Beijing did not want to be seen as following Taiwan's lead, said Phil Robertson, deputy director for Asia at Human Rights Watch.

"While China tolerates same sex relations, it certainly does not promote LGBT rights, and sadly, does very little to counter the types of economic and social discrimination that LGBT people face on a daily basis," he added.