Taiwan's Recognition of Marriage Equality Divides Opinions in Mainland China

LGBT China
Participants take part in a Pride Run, an event of the ShanghaiPRIDE celebration in 2015. Following Taiwan, China may begin recognizing same-sex marriage within the next decade, some experts believe. Aly Song/Reuters

Taiwan's decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry has proved a shot in the arm for China's gay rights movement, but it is likely to be many years before Beijing approves similar measures, amid deep-rooted opposition in some quarters.

Until 2001, China listed homosexuality as a mental disorder, but it is not illegal to be gay. Many large cities have thriving gay scenes, although gay men and women still face a lot of family pressure to get married and have children.

China sees Taiwan as a wayward province to be brought under Beijing's control by force if necessary, and considers its people to be Chinese citizens. Proudly democratic Taiwan has shown no interest in being ruled by China.

Wednesday's decision, the first such ruling in Asia, cements Taiwan's position as a beacon of liberalism in the region.

But mainstream Chinese media either ignored the decision by the island's constitutional court, or focused on the small numbers of Taiwan protesters against it. The decision had "caused controversy", the state-run Xinhua news agency said.

However, it was only a matter of time before China approved same-sex marriage, the English version of the Global Times, published by the official People's Daily, said.

"The ruling proves that same-sex marriage is acceptable in Chinese culture, and is likely for the Chinese mainland to legalize gay marriage within a decade," Li Yinhe, a sociologist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the paper.

But the far more widely read Chinese version of the paper confined its reporting to the Taiwanese side, with no direct mention of how it could affect China.

Still, the news caused a massive spike in readership of the topic on Weibo, China's answer to Twitter, drawing millions of views and many broadly supportive comments.

Taiwan's decision would help promote the same-sex marriage issue in China, said Li Tingting, a gender equality and gay rights activist detained in 2015 for trying to fight sexual harassment.

"This is the broad trend of the times. It doesn't hurt anybody else," Li, who is better known by the pseudonym Li Maizi, told Reuters.

"But the problem is society is too conservative. Many people have never had any contact with anyone gay."

As if to underscore that view, a Chinese academic denounced the news in an open letter on the site Confucian Web, urging parents in Taiwan to move to China to keep their children from contracting AIDS.

Such attitudes were disappointing and upsetting, said Wei Xiaogang, who works for the Beijing Gender Health Education Institute on gay rights and gender issues, but he felt reaction in China had been generally positive.

"It raises the visibility of equal marriage in China, and if more places in Asia approve this, China will feel like it won't want to be left behind," Wei told Reuters, though he could not predict how long that could take.

Government reaction in Beijing was muted.

A spokesman for China's Taiwan Affairs Office said he had seen the news, but referred a question on recognition of same sex marriages performed in Taiwan to the "relevant specialist department", without offering details.