The Many Routes to Marriage: In China, Unofficially.

In the West, when we speak of “marriage”, we are usually thinking of something sanctioned by either church or state – or both. In Asia, it’s more fluid. Last year I reported on the first gay marriage in Nepal, which was held without waiting for the new constitution to be completed and give legal sanction to the union. Similar unofficial weddings, unrecognized by legal provision, seem to be increasingly common in many Asian countries. What I like about this report from China is not the novelty value of the report (this not new. There was a very public “gay marriage” display in Beijing for Valentine’s Day, 2009), but the argument that public recognition of such marriages, even without religious blessing or legal registration, can contribute to stable and healthy relationships – and so contribute to HIV/AIDS prevention.

When Da Wen said “I do” to Xiao Qiang at their wedding in a Beijing restaurant on Saturday it was a union aimed not only at the joining of two people in love but also a bid to strengthen the fight against AIDS.

The two men, knowing that gay marriage is not recognized under Chinese law, still wanted to declare their union in public as an example to other gay couples in China.

Although their marriage cannot be officially registered, the couple received a certificate, complete with pictures of both men and the seal of “China’s Happy Marriage Committee,” an organization that doesn’t exist.

Xiao Dong, director of a Beijing AIDS prevention voluntary team, said such gay marriages would help people in the gay community prevent AIDS.

He said marriage could seal relationships and avoid rapid changes in sex partners.

Xiao said the lack of a law to regulate same-sex marriages in China made it difficult for gay couples to maintain their relationships.

People in gay communities would often have several sex partners due to the absence of law, thus dramatically increasing the risk of them getting AIDS, Xiao said.


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Gay Christians – in China?

When we examine the situation and history of gay Christians, it is often too easy to forget how much the facts differ around the world. Uganda has been in the news, for harsh penalties for acts that are already illegal in terms of what was originally colonial era legislation. Indian courts have struck down the criminalization of homosexuality, and the country reverts to the pre-colonial toleration and acceptance of sexual diversity. In China and Japan, history, art and literature show not just a toleration, but even a celebration of male same sex love, which was especially characteristic of the monastic and military classes, as well as (more predictably) poets and actors.

Under the Mulberry Tree

(Image from “Gay Art History“)

The existence of gay Buddhists in modern china is entirely predictable:  organised gay Christian groups are more surprising. But, as this report from Global Times shows,  shows, they exist – the MCC is everywhere.

A documentary about gay Christian and Buddhist groups in China premieres tonight at The Boat.

For those seeking to get into the Christmas spirit, there will be an accompanying party. The film, part of a monthly series on gay and lesbian life in China produced by Queer Comrades, focuses on a visit to China by two pastors from the Metropolitan Community Churches, a gay Christian organization that boasts 250 member congregations in 28 countries.

In the documentary, Pastor Pat Baumgardner says the people who go to the church may be believers, non-Christians, or non-believers. Some may come just to hook up with someone.

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that,” she says. “I think other people come because they’re lonely on many, many levels, and want to connect and find some mean-ing and purpose for their lives.”

The documentary also focuses on a group of gay Buddhists who meet for comfort and spiritual guidance in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province.

One of them, a student named Wang Xi, remarks, “a master once told me that in the realm of Buddha and Avalokitesvara, there’s no gender difference. I think it’s a bit similar to what we’re advocating.”

In Beijing, there is a gay Christian support group with about a dozen members that meets infrequently.

But generally, religious groups for gays are quite scarce in China, according to producer Xiao Gang. The documentary touches on how gays in other countries face both persecution and get strength from religion.