Chinese Media Changing Its Tune on Same-Sex Marriage

New America Media, News Report, Wenyi Li Posted: Jul 02, 2008

Editor’s note: Helen Zia and Lia Shigemura are now legally married to one another, after years of trying. What’s more, the Chinese language media are more supportive of their union, reports NAM writer Janet Li. Li is a journalism student from Hong Kong university.

SAN FRANCISCO—Four years after their marriage right was vetoed four to three in the California Supreme Court, this June, Helen Zia and Lia Shigemura’s wedding became front-page news once more in local Chinese newspapers.

Zia, an award-winning journalist, editor and author, was among the members of a same-sex partnership to file a declaration in 2004 in support of the City Attorney's constitutional challenge to state marriage laws that discriminate against lesbian and gay couples. Lia Shigemura has also been a prominent voice in San Francisco's Asian American and Japanese American community. Zia's mother, Beilin Woo Zia—who also filed a declaration in the case to support marriage equality, was on hand for the ceremony. The 79-year-old retiree immigrated to the United States from Shanghai, China in 1949.

A journalist and scholar who has covered Asian American communities and social and political movements for decades, Helen Zia never fails to impress both mainstream and ethnic media by her consistent effort and deep commitment. She is the author of Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People.

Chinese language publications covered the couple’s saga as they struggled toward becoming a legally married couple. The World Journal, for example, published an article titled “Helen Zia Marrying with Happiness and Blessings.” It observed that it was the belief in the promise of equality that made the couple feel more connected, and that their activism and shared interest forged their love. Furthermore, it was the support from accepting relatives and friends that enabled them to pursue legal marriage for 16 years.

Sing Tao reported that “After 16 Years, Lesbian Chinese Couple Got Hitched.” The article reviewed the path on which Chinese immigrants strive for their rights in the United States, from competing to come immigrate and get citizenship, to being treated equally. Helen Zia’s marriage can be viewed, it noted, as another milestone in Asian Americans’ fight for equal rights.

Many editors of Chinese newspapers still remember clearly when the news broke four years ago that Chinese churches were among the leading opponents of same-sex marriage. This time, however, they are focusing on the human side of the story, as evidenced in their coverage of Zia’s and Shigemura’s wedding. The shift in Chinese media’s coverage, they say, may also reflect the change of attitude in its audiences.

“I don’t think Chinese people in general protest same sex marriage that much these days,” said Ted Fang, publisher of AsianWeek. “They don’t like people to make trouble. It is those conservative Christian Chinese who make it a big deal.”

Kevin Jim, who is one of the board members of the Gay Asian Pacific Alliance, agreed that Chinese in America, reflecting a national trend, seem to have become less opposed to same sex marriage over the past four years. “Although it is still hard for those first generation Chinese immigrants to understand that the issue is not about religious rebellion, it is about civil rights,” said Jim. “I hope and I believe that the Chinese community’s attitude is changing. [It’s] just slow and needs more time.”

Helen Zia & Lia Shigemura Wedding at City Hall and filmed by KTSF TV

“The difference between homosexual and heterosexual is just like someone who smokes and someone who doesn’t, and a society’s acceptance of the variety to a large degree reflects the extent of its civilization’s advancement,” said Amy Chung, an immigrant from Hong Kong, to a BBC reporter.

Some Chinese, however, appear to be less optimistic about the acceptance of same sex marriage in Chinese community.

“Although the existence of gays can be traced back to Han Dynasty, thousands of years ago in Chinese history, Chinese people find it hard to embrace, and it is never something glorious to claim you are in such a relationship,” noted Kai Ping, a senior reporter of World Journal. “Chinese think gay marriage is not only against law of nature, but against their traditional family value as well.”

“But, considering same sex marriage was once compared with morbid psychology in China, the Chinese community has already become more open-minded and progressive,” Kai Ping added.

“I don’t think much changed in the past four years, and after all, gay and lesbians are still minorities in Chinese community,” said Kai Ping. “That’s why Helen’s story become newsy to us. We have intense reporting this time, as well as four years ago.”

When asked to predict how the Chinese community’s attitude would change towards same sex marriage in the future, Kai Ping said that America-born Chinese are relatively more supportive of gays and lesbians marrying.

As Helen Zia, who now hosts a syndicated Asian American radio talk show called As I Am, put it, the key for support lies in “using our true love to move people, one person at a time.”

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User Comments

Charlotte on Jul 02, 2008 at 08:19:10 said:

Marriage is a basic civil right that should be attainable by all people if they choose. For those who are uncomfortable with gay marriage check out our short produced to educate & defuse the controversy. It has a way of opening closed minds & provides some sanity on the issue:




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