A Chinese court has suggested that women with gay husbands should in fact be allowed to have their marriages annulled, causing controversy among conservatives but delight among women’s rights groups.
This change was reportedly proposed by the First Intermediate People’s Court of Beijing recently in reaction to a spate of cases where a wife has discovered her husband is gay.
Current law doesn’t allow for annulments in such cases, but the proposed change would mean that a woman would not be labored with the weight of being branded a divorcee, instead simply being listed on official records as “single.” While this doesn’t sound like a big change, in a society where reputation is given heavy consideration, this may mark a quiet step forward for women’s rights and a way out of an unhappy marriage that doesn’t mar future prospects.
“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.
The court made this call in reaction to the number of so-called “gay husband” cases that have increased in recent years, with estimates that in China there may be more than 10 million women with husbands who are gay, though a university professor made headlines in 2012 when he put the figure as high as 16 million.
The proposal, however, would not allow women with children to ask for an annulment, meaning that divorce will still be their only avenue out of the marriage and as such these women will still be subjected to the costly divorce procedure that has, in a number of cases, led to women becoming destitute.
Interestingly, gay groups have been slightly worried not so much about the change itself, which is positive, but the effect it could have on the gay men in these relationships — and while this might sound ridiculous given the context, it is worth mentioning.
It is estimated that as many as 90 percent of all gay men in the country will eventually marry a woman in a bid to conform to societal roles and the expectations of their parents who, tradition demands, require an heir to pass on their bloodline; the impetus for a fruitful heterosexual union is therefore great.
In addition to this, while homosexuality is not technically prosecuted in China, being gay is frowned upon and the presiding Communist party has been keen to ensure that no gay advocacy can be detected. Needless to say, same-sex marriage is banned.
As such, gay groups have worried that in addressing this very salient women’s rights issue in this way but not tackling the heart of the problem, why gay men are marrying women in the first place, Chinese society is pushing its gay men into an even tighter corner from which there are few avenues of escape until China tackles its LGBT discrimination issues — and that, in the short-term at least, doesn’t look likely. They also point out it does nothing to stop these gay men marrying women, and therefore the problem will persist.
Of course, one thing here is clear: the women deserve the right to know the orientation of their partner and must have the right to annul their marriage if that marriage is a sham, and in this light the call for legislation can be seen as both overdue and still very much needed.
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