BEIJING (AP) — A prominent Chinese lesbian couple held a simple ceremony Thursday to announce their informal marriage, in their latest effort to push for the legalization of same-sex unions in China.
The union of Li Tingting and Teresa Xu came six days after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to validate same-sex marriages in the United States, and four months after Li was detained in China for her women's rights activism.
China does not legally permit same-sex marriage, and there is no broad social effort to push for its legalization.
"I do," Li said in English, as friends cheered. "So do I," replied Xu, also in English.
They exchanged vows and put on silver rings serving as wedding bands in front of about 20 friends and an equal number of journalists gathered at a restaurant in a suburb of Beijing decorated with balloons, rainbow flags and their photos.
"We want to take some action to advocate for same-sex marriage," Li said earlier in a salon, while Xu was having her hair styled. "It's doing the impossible when you know it's impossible, but it takes those constant efforts to make changes in history."
Li was detained in early March with four others amid China's crackdown on social activism. They were taken into police custody in a criminal investigation over their plans to hand out stickers and flyers denouncing sexual harassment. Foreign governments, rights groups and Hillary Clinton, who is running for U.S. President, criticized their detention. The five were released 37 days later, although they remain criminal suspects.
The experience prompted Xu to consider a stronger bond with Li. "I love her, and after her detention I wanted to be closer to her but not merely as her girlfriend," Xu said. "I love her courage and her sense of justice."
The U.S. Supreme Court decision inspired them to seek their own version of a same-sex marriage, Li said.
"That's a U.S. law. What use does it have in China?" Li said. "We think we should do something ourselves."
Within days, the couple picked up wedding gowns, scheduled salon sessions for their hair and makeup and reserved the banquet room.
The couple had initially considered showing up at the local civil affairs office to apply for a marriage license but stopped the plan so as not to upset the authorities.
"They could detain me on the charge of assembling illegally or provoking trouble to disrupt social order," Li said.
Li said state security officials had contacted her to inquire about the ceremony, and that she was worried about the possibility of being detained again.
"We are a bit nervous and excited that our wedding should get this much attention," she said at the ceremony.