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Chinese court ruling on `gay wives` sparks debate

A recent court ruling allows women who have unwittingly married gay men to seek an `annulment` of their marriage.

Beijing: A recent court ruling, which allows women who have unwittingly married gay men to seek an `annulment` of their marriage, has stirred up a debate about gay rights in China which is home to at least 10 million such women.

In a report released last week, the First Intermediate People`s Court of Beijing called for a legislation to allow those who discover their spouses are homosexual to file for an annulment as an alternative to divorce.

The report said the number of such cases has been increasing.

Current marriage law does not provide an "out" for such marriages and many of the wives view divorce unfavourably.

China has at least 10 million `gay wives`, according to prominent sexologist Zhang Beichuan, adding that nearly 90 percent of gay men are already married to or will eventually marry heterosexual women, as same-sex marriage is banned in the country.

After annulling their marriages, the legal marital status of the women in question would be restored to "single" instead of "divorced".

Some plaintiffs believe the change will better protect their rights, the report said.

"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," a 24-year-old Chinese woman, who has counselled scores of wives on the issue said.

Although the proposed legislation is good news for the wives of gay men, it has caused a backlash from the gay community and provoked further debate over gay people`s right to marry.

The solution will rest in efforts to help end public discrimination against gay people as opposed to legislating the issue, said Hu Zhijun, the executive director of PFLAG China, an organisation dedicated to eliminating stigma surrounding sexual minorities.

Legal specialist, Liang Wenyong said "homosexuals are obliged to tell their would-be spouses about their sexual orientation or the marriage will inevitably inflict pain on the heterosexual partner".

In China, gay men chose to marry women and have children mainly due to significant pressure from their parents and social traditions, as many Chinese believe that continuing a family`s bloodline is an inescapable obligation for men.

The court ruling however, cannot benefit all "gay wives" and more efforts will be needed to protect their rights, the Xinhua report said.