Gay Couples in China Are Making Partners Legal Guardians Because Gay Marriage is Illegal

Gay Couples in China Are Making Partners Legal Guardians Because Gay Marriage is IllegalGay Couples in China Are Making Partners Legal Guardians Because Gay Marriage is Illegal
Carl Samson
August 6, 2019
In an apparent bid to settle for the closest thing to gay marriage, same-sex couples in China have reportedly been naming their partners as legal guardians.
According to Sohu News, same-sex couples from all ages are adopting the practice, which is common among the elderly but not young adults.
The trend apparently stems from the notion that same-sex couples, without the legal bond of marriage, have unclear positions in healthcare and property rights.
“While same-sex marriage is illegal in China, gay and lesbian couples are grappling with a string of same issues facing heterosexual couples, such as healthcare, senior care, and inheritance,” said Li Chenyang, an officer working at the notary office in Shanghai’s Putuo District, according to SupChina.
Li said that he has dealt with more than a dozen guardianship cases since October 2017, when the Chinese government allowed all adults to appoint their own guardians under mutual agreement.
“What we are attempting to achieve is eradicating legal loopholes and solving social problems for them.”
Li Chenyang. Image via Sohu News
Li recalled clients asking whether guardianship is equivalent to getting married. He also met some claiming that the other party is only a “friend.”
“But I can see it at a glance,” said Li, who sees a couple or two every month. By now, he claims to recognize two people’s relationship from the tone of their voices and their interaction.
While legal, the process involved in appointing another adult for a guardian is not exactly smooth. Ding Qingya, a lawyer in Hunan specializing in guardianship cases, told Sohu News that when a same-sex couple applied in 2018, her local notary office held a six-hour-long discussion to decide on the matter.
“The discussion was centered on whether the approval of such cases would disrupt public disorder or morality,” Ding said. “There were concerns about potential legal problems that might arise afterwards.”
A Chinese court rules against couple Sun Wenlin and Hu Mingliang in the country’s first same-sex marriage lawsuit in 2016. Image via
Li said that many same-sex couples are now treating mutual guardianship as their “marriage certificate.”
“[For them] the title is not important, what matters most is to be able to get each other’s guardianship rights,” he said.
According to Li, most cases he has handled involved couples around the age of 40 and financially independent, with many considering guardianship after experiencing major life-or-death situations in the hospital — and without anyone to sign for them.
“Gays and lesbians in China tend to have bad relationships with their parents, who don’t understand them or in some cases cut ties with them due to their sexual orientation.”
A lesbian wedding in Wuhan, China. Image via Sina News
Still, same-sex applicants in non-romantic relationships are also taking advantage of the change in legislation.
“One of the most impressive cases I have involves two men who live with each other,” Li recalled. “The older man is in his 60s, has no family or friends, and lives alone. The young man is in his early 40s and has divorced his wife.”
Image via
“The old man relies on the young man, a driver, in his daily life. On one occasion, the driver helped the old man and sent him back to his home. After that, they contacted each other, helped each other and finally moved to live together,” Li said.
“The old man provided food and accommodation to the driver, while the driver helped him take a bath and took him for rides. After describing the intended guardianship, their custodial relationship has been proven under the law. I am not sure whether there is a same-sex relationship between them, but it is not important.”
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