From China with love, at last

Gay Chi­nese cou­ples win a dream im­pos­si­ble at home: mar­riage

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Hai­ley Bran­son-Potts and Julie Maki­nen

For seven Chi­nese gay cou­ples, a trip to Cal­i­for­nia of­fered some­thing that wasn’t legal at home: mar­riage cer­tifi­cates.

The cou­ples were among hun­dreds who en­tered a high-pro­file on­line con­test of­fer­ing an all-ex­pens­e­s­paid Amer­i­can dream wed­ding.

On Tues­day, they wed at the West Hol­ly­wood Li­brary — the same place where, two sum­mers ago, gay cou­ples mar­ried en masse af­ter same-sex mar­riage be­came legal in Cal­i­for­nia.

As cam­era crews sur­rounded her, Xue Mengyao sneaked a look at her brideto-be, Xu Na, get­ting her makeup done and wear­ing a long white dress with lace and pearls.

Asked how Xu looked, Xue couldn’t an­swer. She said if she did, she would start cry­ing and ruin her own makeup.

“First sight,” she said, re­call­ing when she first knew she would fall in love with Xu. “First sight.”

The women, both in their 20s, met while vol­un­teer­ing at the Bei­jing LGBT Cen­ter. They were in a crowded, noisy room, but there in the mid­dle, Xue spot­ted a woman who just ra­di­ated beauty and con­fi­dence.

See­ing Xu for the first time struck Xue so deeply that she would re­mem­ber the mo­ment down to the out­fit Xu had on: black sweater, blue scarf. Both artists, the women have been to­gether for two years.

De­spite the me­dia at­ten­tion that came from the con- test, Xue said she has not told her fam­ily she is a les­bian. She wanted to get mar­ried, legally, and show her par­ents the joy in the pho­tos so they would know: This is what a happy cou­ple looks like. This is what ac­cep­tance

looks like.

The “We Do” con­test, as it was called, was spon­sored by the e-com­merce be­he­moth Alibaba and its shop­ping site Taobao, as well as China’s largest gay dat­ing app, Blued. The cou­ples got mar­riage li­censes at the Bev­erly Hills Court­house this week. Though their mar­riages will not be rec­og­nized in China, they are legal in the U.S.

For rea­sons of so­cial ac­cep­tance and parental pres­sure, many gay men in China — up to 80% by some es­ti­mates — will marry women. Ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity was se­verely pun­ished dur­ing the Cul­tural Revo­lu­tion of 1966-76 un­der a statute for­bid­ding “hooli­gan­ism.” Of­fi­cially, gay sex was a crim­i­nal of­fense un­til 1997.

“In the past, ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity, gam­bling and pros­ti­tu­tion were all con­sid­ered dirty sub­jects and not al­lowed in the me­dia,” said Li Yinhe, a Chi­nese so­ci­ol­o­gist and sex­ol­o­gist.

But as the coun­try’s econ­omy has de­vel­oped and tol­er­ance has grown, the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment has taken a some­what ag­nos­tic ap­proach to­ward ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity, nei­ther ban­ning nor en­dors­ing it, Li said.

Gay dat­ing apps are popular in China, and gay wed­dings are in­creas­ingly at­tract­ing public in­ter­est. Last Septem­ber, a gay Bri­tish diplo­mat in China mar­ried his Chi­nese Amer­i­can part­ner at the Bri­tish am­bas­sador’s res­i­dence in Bei­jing. (Gay mar­riage is legal in Bri­tain.) News of the cer­e­mony went vi­ral on Chi­nese so­cial me­dia.

De­spite all the at­ten­tion on the We Do con­test and all the cam­eras in the room, Tues­day’s West Hol­ly­wood cer­e­mony was in­tensely per­sonal for Duan Rongfeng, 38, and Li Tao, 30, of Shang­hai.

The cou­ple, who run an adv busi­ness to­gether, wore match­ing pale blue tuxe­dos and white rose bou­ton­nieres. They’ve been to­gether for 11 years. For much of that time, they were clos­eted, in­tro­duc­ing each other only as “good friends.” De­spite their fears, their fam­i­lies sup­ported them when they came out. Li’s mother even moved in with them.

Be­fore the cer­e­mony, Li read a text mes­sage in Chi­nese that his mom had sent that morn­ing: “This must be a very ex­cit­ing mo­ment in your life. As your mom, I wish you all the hap­pi­ness ... for­ever.”

The cou­ples walked down the aisle hold­ing hands. When “Some­where Over the Rain­bow” started play­ing softly over the loud­speaker, Duan qui­etly mouthed the words. He touched his part­ner’s knee as the other cou­ples took their turns to wed, with West Hol­ly­wood Mayor Lind­sey Hor­vath of­fi­ci­at­ing.

One man grabbed his part­ner as Hor­vath spoke, un­able to wait un­til she had fin­ished the vows to kiss him.

“Clearly,” Hor­vath said, laugh­ing, “you have sealed th­ese vows with a kiss.”

Xue ad­justed the train on Xu’s dress be­fore they walked down the aisle and wept tears of joy when Xu put a ring on her fin­ger. Her new wife gen­tly wiped away her tears.

When Hor­vath told Duan he could give his new hus­band the ring he had been pro­vided by the con­test, he whipped a sur­prise ring out of his jacket pocket: a gold Tif­fany band with three di­a­monds. Li broke down, cry­ing.

Duan had bought the ring weeks ago as a sur­prise be­cause Li al­ways teased him that he “wasn’t ro­man­tic enough.” He had strug­gled to keep it a se­cret, but he knew he wouldn’t have to go through the ex­pe­ri­ence again.

“I have to buy a wed­ding ring only once,” he said, smil­ing at his new hus­band.

Christina House For The Times

DUAN RONGFENG hoists his new hus­band, Li Tao, af­ter the con­test-win­ning Shang­hai cou­ple got mar­ried at West Hol­ly­wood Li­brary.

Pho­tog raphs by Christina House For The Times

BEI­JING COU­PLE Liu Xin and Hu Zhi­dong em­brace at the wed­ding cer­e­mony. Though the mar­riages will not be rec­og­nized in China, they are legal in the U.S.

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