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Gays, Lesbians and "Marriages of Formality"
Summary:Sham marriages between gay men and lesbians are becoming more common in China as a way to fend off pressure from families to settle down and start a family. But these marriages bring their own challenges.

By Zhu Chong (
朱冲) and Cui Tianti (天醍)
Sept 2, 2013  

Economic Observer Online
Translated by Laura Lin
Original article: [Chinese]

On a weekend morning Y, a lesbian woman, changes out of her usual masculine attire and puts on an elaborate woman's outfit to go and visit the parents of A, a homosexual man. The visit is to inform the parents that Y and A are getting married.

This kind of marriage is called xinghun (形婚), literally meaning a “marriage of formality” in Chinese. It can involve little, if any, true substance. Both Y and A respectively have had hidden a girlfriend and boyfriend for years, while being constantly pressured by their parents to get married.

Gay men and lesbians often feel obliged to get married due to social pressure and traditional necessity, which can leave them in loveless sexless marriages with unwitting heterosexual partners. Now, xinghun is emerging in developed cities such as Shanghai and Beijing to solve this problem.

Through mutual cooperation, China's homosexuals and lesbians compose superficially normal families — with a man and a woman — while in reality the couple continues to have their independence. The formality of marriage is simply used to fend off exterior pressure and allow them to go on loving who they love. Indeed, it is also called a “mutual support marriage.” And they can even, through artificial insemination or adoption, have offspring.

Short of gaining authentic acceptance by society, Chinese homosexuals find the xinghun a breakthrough. To facilitate the search for a husband or wife, QQ groups and a variety of instant messaging platforms are dedicated to finding a suitable faux partner. It was through a friend's introduction that Y joined a QQ group and got linked up with A. Soon after, they decided to visit each other's parents and set up together as a family as soon as possible.

Often the search for xinghun can be even trickier than finding a conventional match. Since the couple doesn’t have any real emotional attachment, external factors are the only standard for choosing their “spouses." Whether the man owns his own house is even more important in a xinghun, for example.

There is also a "code of conduct" for the xinghun couples. Generally, accompanying in public places is the major responsibility of the two parties. However, since the marriage is not out of affection or sexual love they are not obliged to support each other financially, nor provide healthcare or emotional support. Both parties usually sign a premarital property agreement specifying that matrimonial property is not to be shared.

Since xinghun couples do not have any obligation to care for each other, they mostly live separately. Of course, if their parents also live in the same city, they may be obliged to live together to maintain their cover. Such cohabitation is similar to a roommate relationship where the involved parties share the living costs; though in general men tend to pay a bit more.

The Divorce

Similar to ordinary marriages, some xinghun couples end up divorcing. Others actually sign a premarital agreement specifying that they will get divorced after a certain number of years. Usually they are the ones who believe this is the way to make their sexual orientation obvious to their families and to society so that they will no longer be burdened with a heterosexual marriage.  

However, Y has a dream to “emigrate to where I’m allowed to marry my girlfriend.”

It’s worth noting that apart from parental pressure and sheltering oneself from the eyes of society, more and more homosexuals are getting married for their own future. Whereas in the West many homosexuals might choose to adopt children from an orphanage or have a child through artificial insemination from a sperm bank, most Chinese homosexuals are more conventional and would prefer having their own biological children. Due to China’s strict household registration system and protection of children born in wedlock, the marriage of convenience becomes even more useful.

In the xinghun QQ groups, most men express their aspiration to have children. This is also the case of A.

As for Y, she was initially reluctant, but finally compromised. “I think at the end of the day women all like to be a mother,” she said. “Although I don’t feel strongly that I want a child now, I’m afraid I’ll end up regretting it, so I gave in.” The couple will probably use artificial insemination.

When asked how she will feel having a child with a partner for whom she feels no love, Y replied, "I know it's hard for a woman to bring up a child herself. But it will be helpful for me in my old age."

As to whether or not the child is to be told the reality of their parents' "marriage," most xinghun couples are hesitant. Though they see Xinghun as the only way to satisfy their own parents' expectations while pursuing their own happiness, they are not sure what the next generation will think.

"Maybe I'll tell the child when he or she grows up," Y says. 

News in English via World Crunch (link)


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