Wives of Gay Husbands in China Given New Option
A court in China made a recommendation last week that would make it easier for women who married gay men to legally leave the relationship, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The First Intermediate Court of Beijing submitted a report urging for a measure that would allow women who find out their husbands are gay to file for annulment instead of going through a divorce. The person who first files the request for the annulment would be legally listed as single instead of divorced, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
The WSJ points out the proposed measure could be applied to anyone but it’s aimed towards women who tied the knot with a gay man, who are known as "tongqi." The article goes on to say that there are "no official estimates of the population of tongqi in China" but AIDS researcher and sexologist Zhang Beichuan estimates up to 10 million women are married to gay men in the world’s most populous country. He told the WSJ that when bisexual and the transgendered are added, the number bumps up to 16 million.
The vast majority of gay men get married because of pressure from their parents to pass on their family names, "to be so-called filial sons," Beichuan told the Journal.
"The man will pretend to be straight in order to attract a wife, having sex with her only long enough to father the coveted next generation," reported the Wall Street Journal, which noted that, in some cases, gay men and lesbians agree to a "violet marriage" to please their families while allowing them to "date" others of the same sex.
The existence of homosexuality in China has been well documented for centuries. In 1997, the Communist government legalized "sodomy." In 2001, the Chinese Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from the official list of mental illnesses.
Views on the LGBT community have shifted over the years. In major cities like Shanghai and Guangzhou, there are thriving gay communities. Although gay men and lesbians are under tremendous pressure to marry someone of the opposite sex in order to reproduce, the media reported a public gay wedding in the coastal province of Fujian in October. Many people appeared to accept this, with gay activists called the event a milestone for China’s tolerance.
There is no legal recognition of same-sex marriage in China; the island nation of Taiwan, off the coast of Mainland China, is currently debating same-sex marriage.
The issue of tongqi made headlines in June 2012, when a 31-year-old woman from the southwestern province of Sichuan committed suicide after discovering her husband of six months was gay. The woman’s parents sued the man for deceiving their daughter into marriage for $101,000 in damages. The court declines to hear the case.
Her despair was understandable. As Beichuan told the Journal, women in these situations usually cannot escape the marriage, especially if they have a child.
"Even if they’re no longer having sex with their husbands, they’re still attached to the family," he told the newspaper. "Think about it. If they get divorced, they lose their husband, their child, their money, their house."
The Beijing court’s proposal would allow women to easily leave the marriages without the stigma of divorce. Unlike divorced men, Chinese divorcees are considered damaged goods.
The difference between a divorce and an annulment will be familiar to Roman Catholics. Whereas a divorce is an official dissolution of a marriage, an annulment backtracks the marriage and renders it as never having happened in the first place.
"A divorced man in his 40s can still be sought after and find a 20-something woman to marry," an unnamed tongqi supporter was quoted saying by Xinhua. "But when it comes to a divorced woman of the same age, that is absolutely not the case."
Beichuan retains some skepticism about the court’s report. While praising it as "a good thing that the tongqi problem is getting attention in the legal world," he added, "each case is different, and each needs to be handled carefully. The intention is good," but he sees the court’s proposal as lacking details about implementation.
Hu Zhijun, executive director of the China chapter of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, criticized the judge’s proposal as a "complete misdiagnosis of the problem. They’ve written a prescription without figuring out the root of the sickness," Zhijun, wrote in a blog post. "The tongqi problem needs to be solved, and it absolutely requires the adoption of a new law, but a law that allows gay marriage - that gives gay people the right to live with the people they love."
The report did not address how the court would decide custody in cases where the couple had a child.