In a 'first', gay couple tie the knot in China

08:14, January 13, 2010      

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A gay couple - 45-year-old Zeng and 27-year-old Pan wed in a gay bar in Chengdu of southwest China's Sichuan Province January 3, 2010. Zeng divorced his wife of 26 years, who born him a daughter, in February of 2009 and then met Pan in a gay bar. The two men decided to marry last November after dating for two months. Their wedding ceremony was attended by their gay friends without a single relative of either of the two. [Photo/CFP]

Zeng Anquan and Pan Wenjie married only 10 days ago but their honeymoon has been a long ordeal.

Ever since the gay couple made their relationship public in November and had a wedding ceremony on Jan 3, they have been the subject of revilement from family and friends.

"All the capital in my company has been frozen by my younger brother," Zeng said in a dimly-it teahouse in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province.

"My sister warned me she would never call me her brother unless I break up with Pan; and I have answered hundreds of phone calls from friends and relatives, who say they feel ashamed of me.

"But we are deeply in love and will never desert each other," Zeng, 45, told China Daily in an interview.

Same-sex marriages are not recognized in the country, and it is claimed that the Zeng-Pan wedding ceremony is the first such public event in the country.

The country has roughly 30 million homosexuals - 20 million gay men and the remaining, lesbians, according to estimates by Zhang Beichuan, a professor at Qingdao University and an expert on homosexuality and HIV/AIDS prevention.

The professor found in a survey of 1,259 homosexuals that 8.7 percent were fired or forced to resign after revealing their sexual orientation, and 4.7 percent felt their salary and career advancement were affected. Some 62 percent keep their sexual orientation a secret in the workplace.

Zeng, an architect in Chengdu, said he discovered when he was about 20 that he was not interested in people of the opposite sex. "What could I do at that time? I felt embarrassed to think of that tendency," he said.

He married a dance instructor in 1983 and they had a daughter three years later.

But try as he did, he said he could not be attracted to his wife. "I felt I was embracing a lifeless tree while holding a woman," Zeng said.

So he deliberately found a job far from home the day after marriage and came back just once or twice a month. He said he felt sorry for his wife whom he described as "dedicated" and "loyal".

When their daughter grew up and found a decent job, Zeng confessed to his wife. "She was shocked and kept crying for several days. Finally, she agreed to set me free".

The couple divorced last February.

Zeng met Pan, 27, a demobilized soldier last November at a bar. They fell in love with each other at first sight, he said.

"His bright and enchanting smile almost blinded me. And I am so addicted to his gentle and soft voice."

The 1.8-m-tall Pan is robust and masculine, he added.

The duo met frequently and quickly forged a relationship. One month after their first date, Pan broke up with his girlfriend and moved to Zeng's apartment.

However, they faced pressure and prejudice. "Sometimes, I even had to tell others that Pan was my adopted son. We finally moved back to my hometown of Luodai, a remote town in eastern Chengdu, where nobody knew us."

The couple finally made their choice - to get married in a bar frequented by male homosexuals, which was unprecedented in the city.

More than 200 of the couple's friends who shared their orientation were invited to the wedding but many guests who saw their wedding photos were surprised to find the bride in the white wedding gown was a man.

"Gays in Chengdu hardly tell others they are gay. They only meet each other in bars or teahouses, and dare not tell family members or friends," Zeng said.

"We are no longer hiding any more. The wedding is our happiest and most precious moment," Zeng said.

"We don't care how others consider us, as long as we are together."

The only thing they regret is that they could not get a marriage certificate in line with Chinese law. "Thousands of gays and lesbians get married in France, Finland, the UK. Why couldn't we?"

Zhang from Qingdao University and some other scholars, including well-known sociologist Li Yinhe, have called on the government to recognize and legalize same-sex marriage in China.

There has been no response from the government and critics argue the idea is too radical for present-day China.

Worldwide, same-sex marriages are legal in a handful of countries including Sweden, the Netherlands, Canada, and South Africa.

The couple said they hoped gays could become legitimate couples, which would be a "dream come true".

Although no family member attended their wedding, the attitude of their parents and some friends has switched from "opposition" to "it's OK". Pan's former girlfriend, surnamed Li, even volunteered to be Pan's bridesmaid at the wedding.

"The journey is long and arduous. But we'll never give up trying to be recognized as husband and wife," Zeng said.

Source: China Daily
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