A gay man in China is making history by challenging local authorities on his right to marry.
Last month, a 27-year-old who uses the pseudonym Sun Wenlin filed a lawsuit against the city council in Changsha, China, after authorities there refused to issue a marriage license to him and his male partner. The registrar had denied Sun a license in June on the grounds that Chinese law does not allow same-sex marriage, The Paper, a state-funded media site, reported.
The court in Changsha accepted Sun's case earlier this month and is expected to deliver judgment within the next six months, the Chinese government-owned Global Times noted. The court was slated to conduct the first hearing on the case on Thursday, but later delayed it without giving any further details, according to CNN.
Sun's will be China's first gay marriage rights case ever.
"I just want to have a normal relationship and have a family with someone I love, with whom I don't have blood relations," Sun wrote in The Paper earlier this month.
China's Marriage Law currently states that marriage is strictly between a man and woman. But since the law doesn't explicitly forbid same-sex marriage, it is open to interpretation, Sun argued in The Paper.
Whether Chinese courts will accept Sun's argument is unclear, however.
In an op-ed this month, law professor and former party official Hao Tiechun said Sun's argument that marriage could be open to gay couples "runs contrary to rational understanding and is an intentional misinterpretation to the law."
The op-ed, which was published in the state-owned daily newspaper Legal Daily, was titled "The Absurdity of China's First Same-Sex Marriage Case."
The country's policies toward LGBT people have been easing up in the past few decades, however. The crime of "hooliganism," which Chinese authorities used to criminalize gay sexual activity and other unwanted behaviors, was abolished in 1997, according to the BBC. And in 2001, the Chinese Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of classified mental disorders.
Human rights and legal experts around the country have lauded Sun's case as a great leap forward in terms of helping China's LGBT community gain visibility and publicity.
Prominent Chinese sociologist and sexologist Li Yinhe also told The New York Times that Sun's public appeal for same-sex marriage could "help with both fighting social discrimination and winning approval for same-sex marriage." Li had publicly petitioned the Chinese government to legalize gay marriage multiple times since at least 2003, but her calls have gone unanswered every time, according to the All-China Women's Federation.
Sun's legal consultant, whose surname is Ding, also told Reuters that the court case was "no doubt a victory" in terms of spreading knowledge about same-sex marriage. (Ding declined to provide her first name due to the sensitivity of the case, Reuters said.)
While not always deemed criminal, being gay has long been a taboo in China. Following the 1949 communist revolution, the Chinese Communist Party labeled gay people symbols of "bourgeois decadence," according to LGBT historian Don Cochrane. During the Cultural Revolution between 1966 to 1976, people who were discovered to be gay risked being executed, per The Guardian.
And as recently as last October, U.K. broadcaster Channel 4 discovered that some Chinese doctors still offered electroshock therapy and drugs to purportedly "cure" people of being gay.
Still, China's LGBT community continues its long fight for recognition. In 2009, a Chinese citizen named Wang Zhiyong married his partner in a symbolic wedding ceremony, complete with a "marriage certificate" issued by the Beijing LGBT Center.
Last year, inspired by the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to legalize gay marriage across the country and in a push to get China to recognize same-sex rights, another couple, Teresa Xu and Li Tingting also held an informal wedding ceremony in Beijing.