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The first same-sex marriage case in China was just dismissed in court

Sun Wenlin, left, and his partner, Hu Mingliang, hold hands as they arrive at the Furong District Court to argue in China's first gay marriage case in Changsha.
Sun Wenlin, left, and his partner, Hu Mingliang, hold hands as they arrive at the Furong District Court to argue in China's first gay marriage case in Changsha.
Associated Press

After only a few hours of hearings, a judge in China ruled against same-sex marriage Wednesday in the first case of its kind in the country.

Sun Wenlin and his boyfriend, Hu Mingliang, filed the lawsuit against a civil affairs office in Changsha, the Hunan province capital city, after authorities rejected their marriage application last June.

"The original text of the Marriage Law does not say one man and one woman, but a husband and a wife. I personally believe that this term refers not only to heterosexual couples but also to same-sex couples," Sun told a state media agency the Global Times, the BBC reported.

But the historic case, which the court agreed to hear in January, was quickly dismissed after the judge decided China's marriage law only applies to men and women:

"The relevant regulations and law clearly stated the subject of marriage refers to a man and a woman who meet the legal conditions of marriage," the court said in a statement reported by the Los Angeles Times. "Sun Wenlin and Hu Mingliang are both men, therefore their application doesn't comply with the marriage regulations and law."

For many in China, Sun and Hu's case was sign of changing tides in a country where LGBTQ issues have been gaining traction – being gay or lesbian was decriminalized in 1997 (although it was listed as a mental illness until 2001).

According to OutRight Action International, an international gay and lesbian human rights organization, China has taken a "not encouraging, not discouraging, and not promoting" stance to LGBTQ issues, as the government has remained largely silent on the subject.

This is new territory in Asia altogether, where homosexuality is still a taboo subject in many countries.

In 2013 a Pew Research study found high rates of moral disapproval of homosexuality in Asia: 65 percent of people in the Philippines disapproved of homosexuality, 88 percent disapproved in Malaysia, 93 percent disapproved in Indonesia, 57 percent disapproved in South Korea, and 61 percent disapproved in China (data in China was disproportionately urban).

Japan is among the most accepting of homosexuality in Asia – only 31 percent of people found it morally reprehensible, according to the 2013 Pew Research study. As a frame of reference, the United States, which legalized same-sex marriage in 2015, had a 38 percent disapproval rating in 2013.

While Japan issued its first same-sex union certificate to date in 2015, no country in the region has yet to legalize same-sex marriages.

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