China will approve gay marriage before the US

Just a prediction based on what I see. (Links via Shanghaiist – in an post that further proves the point.) That’s China Daily. And it’s bolder than what you’ll see in most US dailies.

There’s something to be said for a society that isn’t blinded by the foaming-at-the-mouth intolerance of the fundamentalist religious groups (Muslims, Jews, Christians, fill in the blank). Granted many Chinese have their own customized blinders – party dogma and a culture that makes it all but impossible to tell your parents you are not getting married. But the new generation of Chinese are amazingly tolerant and they simply don’t possess the wild-eyed ideology to make them fall for such hollow nonsense as gay marriage “threatens the sanctity of traditional marriage.”

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 38 Comments

“China will approve gay marriage before the US”

Homosexuality is typically associated with the rise of great powers.

Churchill once said: “The history of the British navy is rum, sodomy and the lash.”

April 28, 2009 @ 11:20 pm | Comment

Gay is common in China since 200 C.E. (if I din remember wrongly)
In China history, there had never been any ferocious attack on Gay, but rather the consequences of engaging too much in a gay or gal romance/relationship.

April 28, 2009 @ 11:45 pm | Comment

If 18th missionaries’ accounts were any indication, Chinese were/are probably more tolerant toward homosexuality compare to Westerner. This is more like a coming back to normal to me

April 29, 2009 @ 5:52 am | Comment

This is an interesting issue. I wondered what impact religion has on this. But I hadn’t realised until I looked into it that despite the fact Spain is more Christian (and Catholic) than the UK, it has better recognition of gay marriage than we do. Italy and Greece seem to be the only major European states that are still considering what to do. Equally Brazil has some recognition of gay marriage.

I guess it’s down to society itself and how conservative it is. I know the US is more conservative than the UK and much of Europe.

I wonder under what circumstances the Chinese government would legalise gay marriage. Unless the country as a whole was going through political change, why would the CCP risk antagonising older Chinese and the fenqing? Younger Chinese are more tolerant than previous generations, but they don’t see gay rights as a priority either.

Of course given the divisiveness of the subject in the US I can understand that it would drag on for so long that China did take national action first.

April 29, 2009 @ 7:00 am | Comment

Impossible, Chinese legalizing marriage for gays? Impossible! China is a dicatorship, Communist, it is not free, it is not democratic, it is not liberal, it is not tolerant, it has no universal human rights!! How can it legalize gay marriage before the the great democratic and liberal US, impossible. This must be a mistake.

April 29, 2009 @ 8:01 am | Comment

I am surprised.

Socially, China is a very “liberal” right now. Most people are very confused and ambivalent of moral standards or social norms. Things are just changing too fast in China, older generations don’t know younger generations and vice versa. The huge migrant population, their “life style” of freedom from any local norm and constrains, also have huge impact on the overall society.

April 29, 2009 @ 8:07 am | Comment

As a commentary on how hamstrung America seems to be with regard to gay marriage I see your point. However, if you’re serious about thinking China can pop out of its closit wrapped in a (recognised and respected) legal cloak before the US, I doubt it very much.

Outside of the bohemian corners of the major cities I’ve always found China to be in a state of denial concerning the existence of gays in China. Add to that the pressure that parents place on their offspring to conform to traditional family values and I just don’t see it.

China may be getting more open-minded in some quarters, but not the people making or interpreting the laws. I suggest the Chinese become more tolerant of inter-racial marriages before they start waxing liberal on same gender couplings.

April 29, 2009 @ 8:28 am | Comment

Bottom line for me: many in China may be ignorant of these issues because they’re simply unheard of in their villages, something they know next to nothing about. And they may have conservative attitudes. But they aren’t hung up about issues like gay marriage, because they haven’t been taught about how “sinners” are all going to hell due to some obscure references in a mainly fictional black book.

April 29, 2009 @ 8:52 am | Comment

It is not as if Chinese are more tolerant than the Americans. People here don’t have that power to decide. US has democracy and majorities can overrule the rights of the minorities as Jefferson very rightly predicted. Gay marriage is a personal choice exercised by two people that does not hurt rest of the people yet rest of the people would like to have a say. Its shenanigans for sure!

April 29, 2009 @ 10:53 am | Comment

Hell, it’s hard to measure who is less or more tolerant. But what I am referring to as the big difference is the intolerance grounded in religious righteousness, which is much harder to let go and which can turn your intolerance into physical violence, seeing gays as a threat from Satan, destroying your society from the inside out (which is the “logic” behind the BS “sanctity of marriage” argument).

April 29, 2009 @ 11:22 am | Comment

I see the point, and it’s a good one. Nevertheless, this point disintegrates when we start talking about official legal recognition. The possibility of China legally recognizing gay marriage seems highly highly unlikely anytime soon. Not that I expect it to happen tomorrow in America, of course, either…

April 29, 2009 @ 11:36 am | Comment

Kevin, I happen to agree with you, and was careful not to say I think this is going to happen anytime soon. I especially think the younger generation, as in America, is open to this, and while most won’t go out on the street and march for it, their attitude could probably be summed up as, “What’s the big deal? Why shouldn’t they get married if that’s what they want?”

April 29, 2009 @ 12:03 pm | Comment

China is a dicatorship, Communist, it is not free, it is not democratic, it is not liberal, it is not tolerant, it has no universal human rights!!

Wow, HongXing! I’m pleased to see that you’re opening your eyes. Here’s some more learnin’ for you – Even authoritarians can understand that Homosexuality is not a choice, it’s nature.

It’s the religious authoritarians that are the problem.

April 29, 2009 @ 1:35 pm | Comment

Looking at the racket around gay marriage it is obvious that US is fast becoming a regressive nation and they perhaps know that. Just some trivia that might interest you.. South African constituion was the first in Africa to legalise gay marriage and the first in the world to ban descrimination based on sexual orientation. just sayin’.

April 29, 2009 @ 2:49 pm | Comment

Mr Hell, I have to disagree. Americans are becoming increasingly open-minded on this topic as we’ve seen recently in Iowa and elsewhere, and the hard-line evangelical philosophy that is the core of modern-day Republicanism is fast becoming a serious liability for the Grand, Very Old Party. Most young people today are in favor of it. As soon as the dinosaurs of the GOP have sunk into the tar pits, the party will either have to reinvent itself or self-destruct.

April 29, 2009 @ 3:12 pm | Comment

I love America and Americans (did you say open minded – yes double that) .. just commenting on the recent trend as I see it as an outsider.

And thats a Miss not a Mr.

April 29, 2009 @ 3:34 pm | Comment

Well tell that to the people I meet in China who are so far back in the closet they see Narnia.

April 29, 2009 @ 4:25 pm | Comment

With China’s one-child policy, it would be devastating to some parents if their only precious turns out to be gay, since there won’t be any blood descendants.

April 29, 2009 @ 5:07 pm | Comment

But running man, that’s a different point. They are extremely in the closet, hopelessly in the closet – about themselves. They could never tell their parents about themselves. They could never look their relatives in the eye and say, “Sorry, I am not going to give you grandchildren, and will instead be marrying another man.” But when it comes to their level of toleration, I find them more open-minded than many in America. You rarely hear of gay bashing with baseball bats here, they don’t tend to view it as something worth expending insane hatred over.

Ms. Hell, sorry for getting your gender wrong! Thanks for your comments.

April 29, 2009 @ 5:13 pm | Comment

I just did some brief internet search on this.

In fact, the attempt to legalise gay marriage has been made several times in the past few years. Here is a detailed link
(http://lady.qq.com/a/20060323/000064.htm)

As stated in the above article, “2003年,全国人大代表、《新民晚报》记者李葵南将建议代为提交到人大提案委员会,但由于缺乏足够的附议人(30位代表)而未能成为正式议案。2005年,政协对该提案的答复是:要进一步细化,增加调查结果及实施方案的细则。她认为此次“提案被批准的几率确实很小”, in 2003, national people’s representative submitted the purpose to legalise gay marriage to NPC,but since it needs 30 people’s reps support to be a formal purpose, of which he did not get, it failed to become a formal purpose then.

Li Yinhe has long been an advocate of gay rights in China, here is her blog in Sina, in case any readers interest
(http://blog.sina.com.cn/liyinhe)

Also, a speical report on QQ.com about gay marriage
(http://lady.qq.com/weekly/weekly43.htm)

Interestingly, the online survey on QQ indicate a 73% support rate for gay marriage in China (of these survey are not representative)
(http://vote.qq.com/cgi-bin/survey_project_stat?pjtId=1271&rq=yes)

One final thing, anyone bother to tell me how to insert a link here?

April 29, 2009 @ 8:30 pm | Comment

Thanks for that, Chinese. I’m not really surprised. I suspect they support it as long as it’s not their son or daughter (which applies to plenty of Americans as well). It is inspiring to see that the number of those supporting it is that high.

To insert a link you need to use simple html. See here. Between the quotation marks just drop the url.

April 29, 2009 @ 9:02 pm | Comment

With regard to parents support, different people act differently, here are something that might interests you

支持同性恋家长吴幼坚Parents that support their gay children, by Li Yinhe
(http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_473d53360100a1q4.html)
“An organisation was formed on June 28 in Guangzhou by the parents of gay children with the aim of 联络同性恋者的家人及朋友,帮助他们更好地与同性恋者相处,同时向社会宣传同性恋相关知识”……

Here is this NGO’s website
(http://www.pflag.org.cn/)

April 29, 2009 @ 9:50 pm | Comment

@Richard – I think you exaggerate more than a bit. I lived in the city which has a peculiar reputation as one of China’s most gay-friendly – Nanjing (no, I don’t know why, but I’m guessing it’s because of the large number of universities there) and although I did know a few people who were openly homosexual, I also knew more people who were closeted. This included more than one married man, and another who was engaged to be married. This closeting is forced on them by society, it does not come from them.

When I compare even the most lax part of Nanjing (the Confucius temple area especially) to Taipei, it is clear that homosexuals are far freer in even the relatively strict environment of Taiwan than they are anywhere on the mainland. Taiwan is still a place where gay clubs are still subject to raids, and where the police will carry out AIDS tests on the people they catch at the clubs at the same time as drugs testing them, but at least they can stage pride parades, and have some form of public voice.

On the mainland, many people still believe that homosexuality is a foreign invention, that there are no Chinese homosexuals, that homosexuality is a sign of a decadent and corrupt society. Despite the beginnings of change in the past few years, the opinions of the broad masses of the Chinese people are not favourable towards homosexuality, in as much as they recognise that it even exists. You say that fundamentalist religious opinions are the cause of problems in the US, but is that not taking them rather too much at their own word? Isn’t the truth that supposed fervent religious belief that somehow only displays itself on the matter of homosexuality and not on, for example, divorce or the consumption of alcohol, is in fact nothing to do with religion and everything to do with ignorance and prejudice?

Take Ireland for example, a country in which many people still hold strong religious convictions, but where the government has committed itself to introducing gay marriage by June this year. In Italy, another strongly religious country, the opposition party has committed itself to recognition of same-sex unions and given the regularity with which governments change in Italy will doubtless soon get their chance. Russia is not a country which one thinks of in connection with religious fundamentalism, but few countries in Europe have shown themselves to be quite so opposed to gay rights. What this shows is that it is not religious belief which drives homophobia, but pure prejudice.

In China things are different, people will not voice strong opinions about most things in public, there are no genuine popular movements, there is no organised religion beyond those controlled by the state. One should be careful not to confuse absence of debate for lack of controversy.

I’m currently studying in Brighton, which is the gay capital of the UK (and, outside of perhaps Amsterdam, Europe), a place where only a very small minority hold homophobic opinions and in which public homosexuality is perfectly safe, but even here civil marriages were only introduced a few years ago. I do not expect to see gay marriage in mainland China (although HK and maybe Taiwan are different matters) in the next 10 years, but are already seeing the start of it in the US.

April 30, 2009 @ 6:26 am | Comment

China could easily go down the path of mass Christianisation like Korea, or gain a sizable evangelical Christian minority like Taiwan. The next few decades will be decisive on this front as the evangelical churches seem to be making the most gains.

April 30, 2009 @ 9:06 am | Comment

your about me is funny. And that China map with the dotted line route.. hmm I wd never have figured out your journey without that! Nice.

April 30, 2009 @ 9:32 am | Comment

FOARP, closeting in China will always be the norm. I didn’t say people here will be more out than the US or elsewhere. To the contrary. I just think they are often more tolerant. No one is more closeted than 99.999 percent of the gays in China. And if that’s getting better, it’s happening very, very s l o w l y. But that’s not the same as intolerant. They feel they must be closeted to avoid hurting their families. And that attitude is universal here, even in the big cities.

I wasn’t really making a serious argument about which would formally adopt gay marriage first. I wanted to make a point about a significant shift in freedom and toleration here, and what often seems to be a more open-minded attitude toward other people’s sexuality. I know three professors in who parts of China who’ve told me how open-minded their students are on this subject, without the baggage that comes from religious indoctrination.

Religion isn’t necessarily the primary force behind all homophobia. But in the US, it is certainly a key factor, and the organizations that lead the cause are all religious (Anita Bryant, Focus on Family, Mormons, etc.) . I don’t know about Russia.

April 30, 2009 @ 9:33 am | Comment

Yeah, I’m going to repeat my beliefs on homosexuality…it’s perfectly “natural”, imho. I mean, I have had little bit of homoerotic experiences since very young (some sort of ‘playing,’ lol). Because of that, I really think it is a natural thing. Although personally I am also really attracted to females and not so much towards males, but it is there.

It is my belief that human sexuality is a very complex thing; that is, it is not black and white, as is almost everything–in reality. There exist a whole gamut of sexual variations between the extremes of sexuality, therefore to regulate it using simple black and white rules is absurd to me (although I don’t think we are talking about that; what is the topic? Oh gay marriage! I’m for that dudes!). But I’m sure they are cases where people didn’t have these feelings since young, but more of an acquired “taste.” Like I said, it’s all variations.

Whatever, i like girls!!! But I got love for GLBT!

April 30, 2009 @ 2:04 pm | Comment

I couldn’t agree more strongly, Richard!

I’ve been saying this for years – at a national level, it will happen in China before the US. The rate of social change here is beyond amazing. Example: when I moved to Shanghai, it was almost unheard of for two unmarried young people to live together. Now, almost everyone here personally knows someone in that situation. I believe that change happened over about five years! The fact that gay marriage has been already been discussed several times at the People’s Congress level is telling.

The growing “bare branches” (gender imbalance) phenomena could play an increasing role in this debate – if gay male Chinese (a number potentially in the tens of millions) are allowed to marry, that could free up a significant number of marriage-eligible women (assuming that in China, like most societies, gay males well outnumber gay females).

It may be true that many in the Chinese countryside are ignorant about homosexuality, but in China (and most societies), the countryside is the last place to experience social change, so there is little use in looking for indications there. Big social changes typically begin in major metropolitan places and ripple outward. And if what I’m seeing in Shanghai is any indication, change is on its way.

China has a very long and very remarkable history of tolerance of homosexuality. In fact, it seems China has already had gay marriage. For some time, Fujian province apparently had a form of male-male marriage (I believe there was also an area in Guangdong that had female-female arrangements). Ironically, it’s not homosexuality that is an import from the West, it’s *intolerance* of homosexuality that came from West, spread by Britain throughout its colonial empire, and having an influence on Chinese legal and social thought at the end of the 19th century. As another commenter mentioned above, what we are seeing is something more like a return to traditional Chinese relaxed attitudes towards homosexuality.

I’m squarely with Richard on the connection between homophobia and religion. Sure, there are religious countries like Ireland and Spain which aren’t virulently anti-gay. That doesn’t disprove anything, that only says that not all religious people are homophobic. The connection runs in the opposite direction – if you look at homophobic people, there is a very strong correlation with religion, especially fundamentalist religions. In countries/societies with strong strains of homophobia, those prejudices almost always emanate from their religious communities (typically Christian or Muslim). The only exceptions I can think of at the moment are fascist states (where nationalism takes on qualities similar to religions).

Lastly, regarding the pressure on gay Chinese to sire male heirs, (putting aside for the moment that many gays are perfectly capable and willing of fathering children), China need only allow for gay adoption. Chinese seem to be very flexible about adoption, informal adoptions for a variety of reasons seem common here. Could there also be a beneficial connection between gay adoption and the One Child Policy?

中国同性加油! :-)

April 30, 2009 @ 2:19 pm | Comment

@Richard – I would say that university professors are perhaps not the best people to ask on this subject. In the few instances where I discussed this with the university students I taught in Nanjing some of them felt nothing wrong with publicly saying that they thought all homosexuals should die, whilst others defended it as a personal issue, but none of them supported gay marriage. The only instance in which a student admitted to being a homosexual was when approached a colleague asking for advice on what to do, my friend couldn’t do much more than give a few comforting words.

Since you’ve read River Town, you may recall the book on British and American culture which Hessler was given for use in his classes – the one which described homosexuality and bestiality as being common practices in the west as a result of capitalist decadence? The same book was being used at my university when I was there, and several other people I know were given it at universities around the country. Other bon mots include old people being so neglected that they have to eat pet food to survive.

Many Chinese people refuse to believe that such a book is still in use, but I can tell you that it was being used in Nanjing universities as late as 2005 and for all I know may still be in use. Both inside and outside of university I have found the kinds of ‘facts’ expressed in it to be a commonly believed – that homosexuality either originated in the west or is far more common there, and that China either has very few or no homosexuals, and that those who are homosexuals are influenced by foreign culture. Of course, many Chinese are tolerant of homosexuality even if they do believe such things, and a growing number no longer believe them.

April 30, 2009 @ 7:12 pm | Comment

haha. narnia. that’s awesome.

im not sure i agree that they’ll legalise gay marriage any time soon. when the actor who i only know as michael scoffield came out, all of my then-students were up in arms. the girls were upset that he liked penises and the guys felt betrayed as though they thought the tattoos were real.

but then, most things i heard during that year weren’t the kinds of things to give one hope for the future of china.

April 30, 2009 @ 9:31 pm | Comment

guardian.co.uk: Gay people don’t need marriage
“It’s secularism that has given gay people rights. And in civil partnerships, we have a secular institution fit for their celebration”
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2009/apr/30/gay-marriage-miss-america
‘Miss California, including the current Democratic president of the United States, that marriage is “between a man and a woman’

‘In the UK, where nationally recognised same-sex civil unions with the same legal status as marriage – called civil partnerships – were introduced a few years ago, there is little or no appetite now for gay marriage. In my experience few lesbians or gays feel they are “riding at the back of the bus”. Maybe because in many ways they’re actually riding at the front. It’s probably only a matter of time before gay civil partnerships in the UK are made available to all, as they are in France – where the vast majority of applications are now made by cross-sex couples disenchanted with traditional marriage.’

April 30, 2009 @ 10:33 pm | Comment

Slim, thanks for the beautiful comment. I second every word.

FOARP, they may be using that idiotic textbook in some places in China, I don’t know. I do know what I see and hear, some from professors, some form friends, some from websites. Maybe some Chinese people believe that, that homosexuality is a deviant behavior spawned in the West due to their boredom and excessive freedoms. I also know those couples really did go to Tiananmen Square, and the people saw them as something more beautiful than depraved. Read Slim’s comment above carefully. He’s seeing what I’m seeing, whether that textbook is still being taught or not.

April 30, 2009 @ 11:41 pm | Comment

FOARP, that’s dismaying that such a textbook may still be in use at a major university in a big city! To your point, just last week in class I had a young guy describe AIDS as a disease that “came from the United States”, so that disinformation is alive and out there.

As for tolerance of homosexuality among college students, one promising indication is the popularity of the gay studies course that has been offered at Shanghai’s Fudan University since 2003. Apparently interest in the class far outstrips the classroom capacity, hundreds of students are turned away at registration time. The link below includes a photo of the class, students are standing in the rear and sitting in the aisles to attend the lectures. I recall reading that one guest lecturer was an “out” professor from Beijing.

http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/english/doc/2005-12/26/content_506676.htm

May 1, 2009 @ 1:46 am | Comment

Christianity is also rising and fast in China.

Just read a field report by 于建嵘 on China’s grassroot Christian movement called Familty Church (家庭教会), 为基督教家庭教会脱敏.

The report estimates there are 45 to 60 million members of Family Church, plus 18 to 30 million registered “Three-Self Church” (三自教会), total about 80 million Christians in China. Pretty soon China will be the largest Christian nation, if not already so.

Family Church members are mostly rural poor or disfranchised. Church service is usually very lively, music, dance, group cooking and eat, and some Jesus Christ along the way with fundamentalist leaning. Brotherhood and sisterhood are big themes for members of family church – they become somebody in a community led by The God.

For some reason Christianity is quite popular in the relatively affluent province of Zhejiang. More strangely, it is sizzling hot in the city of Wenzhou. Apparently, priests have better livelihood in Wenzhuo. A family church with 100 members can support 3 priests, with salaries. Many family churches hold religious service in office building.

Priest training remain secret to outsiders. The author met some teens or twenty something from Guizuo province lured by Ads on the Web. Incentives for taking priest training programs cited by the future priests: free food and boarding in a city plus allowance and a future in the booming religious career.

May 1, 2009 @ 5:58 am | Comment

If we consider the 124:100 male:female ratio then we can see the neccesity of this liberalism.

May 2, 2009 @ 3:03 am | Comment

Slim, is your experience of Shanghai and FOARP’s of Nanjing reflective of a difference in regional attitudes? Perhaps it suggests that the country as a whole hasn’t become comfortable with gays and thus it’s impossible to gauge how they are seen across the country.

May 2, 2009 @ 5:28 pm | Comment

Raj, I’m sure that’s true to some extent. Social change often radiates outward from major urban epicenters. From what I can gather, it seems to me that Shanghai and Beijing are well ahead of the curve, but that changes are happening all over urban China.

May 4, 2009 @ 12:28 am | Comment

[...] allowed to take place and China Daily did a wonderful job covering them (I wrote about it briefly here). So this is certainly a disappointment. Looking at the video I referenced, I can guess that it [...]

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