Heterosexual privilege

By Kristen Mcavoy
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, June 24, 2012
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Kristen McAvoy is an intern for China.org.cn and recently graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Kristen McAvoy is an intern for China.org.cn and recently graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


Born in Canada and raised in the United States, the topic of gay rights has always been a salient issue in these two countries where I've spent most of my life. But as I walked the streets of Beijing, I found myself wondering how homosexual couples were perceived here and what laws, if any, existed in China in favor of or simply against gay rights.

After doing a little research I discovered that the Chinese government has become increasingly lenient towards homosexuality since the 1990s. In 1997, the law that banned sodomy was repealed, and in 2001, homosexuality was taken off the nation's list of mental illnesses.

After reading up on the above mentioned, I initially felt that China was a little late in the game, but upon further enquiry I realized that China is in fact on par with the U.S.

I was stunned to find that gay sex was not completely legal in the U.S. until 2003. Apparently, in 1960 every state had an anti-sodomy law, and by 2003, 37 states finally had the statutes repealed by lawmakers or barred by the courts. The remaining 13 states continued to abide by some form of that law, however, until the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated them after a case involving a gay Texas couple. Police walked in on the couple having anal sex, and the two men were arrested under the Texas law banning the act. The Supreme Court ruled that the law was unconstitutional.

Inversely, many European countries have at the very least "registered partnerships" that give same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual couples. Leader of the pack was Denmark, legalizing registered partnerships in 1989, and the list only became longer from there: France, Iceland, Norway, Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Germany, Britain and Luxembourg all joined in. Canada legalized same-sex marriage in 2005, and approximately 15,000 couples have been married since, with over 5,000 being non-Canadian citizens.

The U.S. and China have a lot of catching up to do; seven states in the U.S. and the District of Columbia currently allow gay marriage: Washington, New York, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. In 2003, Chinese lawmakers considered changing the law regarding marriage, but ultimately maintained the existing law on heterosexual marriage.

I would assume that with millions of homosexuals in China, someone would want the legal right to be with their same-sex partner, but the topic just doesn't seem to explode like it does in the U.S. and elsewhere.

The major reason for this is (a lack of one) religion. According to the CIA fact book, 3 to 4 percent of Chinese people are Daoist (Taoist), Buddhist, or Christian, while 1 to 2 percent are Muslim. This leaves the remaining 94 percent of the population committing to no official religion. In the U.S., however, 51.3 percent of the population is protestant, 23.9 percent is Roman Catholic, 1.7 percent is Mormon, 1.6 percent is defined as "other Christian", 1.7 percent is Jewish, 0.7 percent is Buddhist, 0.6 percent is Muslim, 2.5 percent is other, 12.1 percent is unaffiliated, and 4 percent have no religion.

Unfortunately, the separation between church and state in the U.S. is a myth, and religion, specifically Christianity, plays a major role in legislation, especially when it comes to the topic of homosexuality. To my dismay, a prime example of this recently took place in my home state of North Carolina. Amendment one was passed, which actually bans same-sex marriage. The ridiculous thing about this amendment is that same-sex marriage was already against the law (statutory law) in North Carolina. However, putting it in the state's Constitution makes it much more difficult to change which is exactly what many religious zealots in the state were aiming for.

I am embarrassed to even associate myself with a state that would blatantly take away people's rights, but that is the dilemma I find myself in. However unfortunate the case, these events do give me hope for China, a nation where religion does not play a considerable role in government.

It seems that Chinese culture, however, is still depriving its homosexual citizens of openly coming out. Parents expect their children to marry and reproduce in order to maintain the family line and to guarantee that they themselves will be cared for. Due to this cultural heritage, many gays here lead double lives; one estimate found in USA Today claimed that as many as 90 percent of Chinese gays marry the opposite sex.

In addition, there are no anti-discrimination laws in China for homosexuals to fall back on, and homosexual couples cannot adopt which makes being openly gay a risky endeavor that is sure to negatively affect many aspects of a person's life.

Not surprisingly, Hong Kong, which has more Western customs compared to China's mainland, protects gay and lesbian citizens from government discrimination. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see which path China's government takes regarding homosexuality, and I can only hope that the path will lead to tolerance.

China and the U.S. should increase the rights of their homosexual citizens because, ultimately, no one, regardless of their culture or their religion, has the right to decide who a person is going to be attracted to.

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of China.org.cn.


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