China is lifting its demand that couples obtain approval from their employers before getting married but will continue to ban same-sex unions, state media reported Wednesday. Zhang Mingliang, an official of the Civil Affairs Ministry said that China's 2001 marriage law forbids gay marriages and that officials won't process paperwork for such unions, the official Xinhua News Agency and newspapers reported. "According to relevant rules, couples of the same sex are forbidden to marry each other," Zhang was quoted Tuesday in The Beijing Times newspaper. The recent approval of same-sex marriage in two Canadian provinces has sparked debate in China. Zhang made his comments in response to "a controversy in society over the issue of whether homosexuals should be allowed to marry," the Times reported.
Gays were strongly persecuted after the founding of Communist China in 1949, and until recently, Chinese psychiatrists listed homosexuality as a mental illness. Even today, few Chinese gay men and lesbians publicly acknowledge their homosexuality, and antigay discrimination is still strong. The new marriage registration rules, to take effect October 1, eliminate the requirement that couples first obtain certificates of approval from their employers before they wed. The requirement harked back to the days when an individual's state work unit controlled many aspects of life, including housing, health care, and children's education.