Year of the Rainbow

China eyes marriage equality?!

Hong Kong Pride. Courtesy Flickr

Way to ring in the Chinese New Year (that’s January 25 in case you don’t know)…

The National People’s Congress, the highest governing body in the nation of China, has acknowledged a number of petitions to allow same-sex marriage in the notoriously traditional nation.

Open debate on the subject has fueled Chinese media since December 20, when the People’s Congress announced it had received 230,000 requests to allow marriage equality in the nation. The announcement brought even more support on social media, and appears to have prompted congressional officials to reconsider the national stance on same-sex marriage. As recently as August, a spokesperson for the governing body had dismissed the idea.

“It felt unreal,” 21-year-old self-identified lesbian Gao Qianhui told NBC News. “I know it’s just a proposal and it’s most likely not going to be realized in the near future, but the fact this topic is now publicly and officially on the table gives the LGBT community hope for the first time after years of hiding and struggling.”

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Historically, China has held very traditionalist attitudes, and homosexuality has remained a taboo subject. That began to change in the 1980s as the nation joined the global community. By 1997, the country had decriminalized homosexuality, and in 2001, no longer classified it as a mental disorder. Though gay bars and clubs now pepper the urban landscape, social stigma remains against LGBTQ people, and conversion therapy remains legal. China also has faced recent criticism abroad for censorship of scenes of same-sex affection in films like Bohemian Rhapsody.

“We were very happy, pleasantly surprised by the news!” said Peng Yanzi, director of LGBT Rights Advocacy China. “As the country becomes stronger economically, its civilization must also keep up. The important thing is that it’s no longer possible for society to stay where it was 10 years ago.”

The National People’s Congress must now draft and revise a bill–which it can do several times–before it goes before the full governing body for a vote. The process could potentially take years, though as other Asian nations like Thailand begin to legalize marriage equality, China will need to act to maintain its image as a regional leader, and as a modern country.