by Xinhua writer Wang Ruoyao
BEIJING, Jan. 17 (Xinhua) -- A recent court proposal has brought new hope to women who have unwittingly married gay men, prompting vibrant discussions about how to protect the women while upholding gay rights.
In a report released last week, the First Intermediate People's Court of Beijing called for legislation to allow those who discover their spouses are homosexual to file for an annulment as an alternative to divorce.
The report said the number of such cases has been increasing. Current marriage law does not provide an "out" for such marriages and many of the wives view divorce unfavorably.
China has at least 10 million "gay wives," according to prominent sexologist Zhang Beichuan, adding that nearly 90 percent of gay men are already married to or will eventually marry heterosexual women, as same-sex marriage is banned in the country.
After annulling their marriages, the legal marital status of the women in question would be restored to "single" instead of "divorced."
Some plaintiffs believe the change will better protect their rights, the report said.
The proposal will be advantageous for gay wives who do not wish to be labeled as divorcees, said "Tabitha," a volunteer with the Tongqi Association, an online support group for wives of gay men.
"A divorced man in his 40s can still be sought-after and find a 20-something woman to marry. But when it comes to a divorced woman of the same age, that is absolutely not the case," said the 24-year-old Chinese woman, who has counseled scores of wives on the issue.
"Zheyi," a former wife of a gay man, said she would rather spend the rest of her life alone. She ended her seven-year marriage a month ago.
"I've lost faith in love and marriage," she said, adding that it is very difficult for a divorced 35-year-old woman to find an ideal husband, especially in smaller cities, where people are more conservative.
The different circumstances of divorced men and women reflect the oppression imposed on females by society, said Liu Bohong, a professor of gender studies.
"Men traditionally intend to choose a first-time bride, a virgin. Such preferences have led to a preference for being 'single' among women themselves," Liu said.
The suggestion may serve as a warning to gay men preparing to marry straight women, according to Zhang.
Although the proposed legislation is good news for the wives of gay men, it has caused a backlash from the gay community and provoked further debate over gay people's right to marry.
"I think allowing the wives of gay men to annul their marriages without providing support to their same-sex partners accordingly will squeeze us out," said "Xiao Xiao," a 24-year-old gay man.
More than 10 years after realizing his sexuality, the postgraduate student in Shanghai has not come out to his family. "The time is not ripe," he said.
The solution will rest in efforts to help end public discrimination against gay people as opposed to legislating the issue, said Hu Zhijun, executive director of PFLAG China, an organization dedicated to eliminating stigma surrounding sexual minorities.
This opinion was echoed by Chen Wei, a professor at the Southwest University of Political Science and Law.
Chen said the court's suggestion deprives homosexuals of right to marry, adding that homosexuals' desire to have families and children should be protected by law.
Another legal specialist, Liang Wenyong, expressed disagreement.
"In my opinion, homosexuals are obliged to tell their would-be spouses about their sexual orientation or the marriage will inevitably inflict pain on the heterosexual partner," said Liang, a researcher at the China University of Political Science and Law, adding that he is in favor of legislation to help the unwitting heterosexual spouses.
"Getting married is like signing a contract. Both sides have the right to know," Liang said. At the same time, he stressed that the law should not interfere if gay people reveal their sexual orientation before marrying straight partners.
In China, gay men chose to marry women and have children mainly due to significant pressure from their parents and social traditions, as many Chinese believe that continuing a family's bloodline is an inescapable obligation for men.
Despite this pressure, gay men have no right to harm those who are also vulnerable, Liu said.
"It's unfair to save oneself by putting others at a disadvantage," she said.
"I advocate for gay rights, but I'm also convinced that all people should be given equal rights," she said.
Hu said gay men, particularly younger ones, should raise the courage to be themselves in the face of pressure and discrimination.
NOT A PANACEA
The proposal, however, cannot benefit all "gay wives" and more efforts will be needed to protect their rights.
For those who have a child with their husband, an annulment would not make sense and divorce may be the only way out of the marriage, Zhang said.
Obtaining a divorce, however, has become a nightmare for many of the women.
"Many wives of gay men sacrifice almost everything just to break off their marriage," said "Tabitha."
"Zheyi," whose divorce suit took nearly two years, accused her ex-husband of forging debt to obtain more property. She mentioned another divorce case in which the wife suffered life-threatening violence.
"Zai Zai," also a former gay wife, managed to get a divorce six months ago at the expense of the custody of her daughter.
"I wouldn't divorce again if given a second chance. My daughter was hurt very deeply," said the 29-year-old woman, who hails from a small town in southwest China's Sichuan province.
"My daughter has become extremely timid. Some people keep telling her 'your mother abandoned you'," she said.
Some divorced women are even deprived of the right to see their child, according to "Marian," founder of the Tongqi Association.
She called for legislation to protect vulnerable women by providing them with a greater chance to gain custody of their child, among other benefits.
The proposal also has practical limitations, as the criteria for determining sexual orientation differs from person to person.
"Gay men usually communicate with each other via the Internet and mobile phones. But as far as I know, some judges tend to admit chat logs and text messages as evidence to identify a person as gay, while others don't," Zhang said.
The judges are also divided as to how evidence obtained by private detectives should be treated, he said.
In addition, Liu warned that legislation concerning married homosexuals should take into consideration situations in which a person realizes he or she is homosexual only after getting married.
Her remark refers to a portion of the court report that refers to homosexuals who fail to inform their spouses about their sexual orientation as "wrongdoers," wording that could put them in a weaker position in terms of dividing property in the event of a divorce.
In June 2012, Luo Hongling, a young college teacher from Sichuan, committed suicide after finding out her newly-married husband was gay. Her death shone a light on the predicaments faced by the wives of gay men and drew wide sympathy from the public.
Luo's parents later filed a lawsuit in a local court against her husband, accusing him of deceiving their daughter and suing for compensation.
However, the court ruled earlier this month that there was no legal basis for their allegations and demands.
Zhang described the verdict as "a disaster for not only the couple, but also for all the wives of gay men."