Why 7 same-sex couples from China came to West Hollywood to get married

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Seven gay couples from China are getting married in West Hollywood today as part of a campaign sponsored by Taobao, the online marketplace owned by Alibaba.

While China has decriminalized being gay or lesbian, same-sex marriage is not legal in that country, so the “We Do” campaign is largely symbolic.

“For the couples it’s not only that they were able to have the ceremony,” Charlie Gu, the local coordinator for the seven couples, told Which Way, LA? “But it was a personal commitment that they were able to make to each other which is not afforded to them in China at the moment.”

Ten couples won the West Hollywood trip out of a group of 400, but only seven were given visas. They all shared their love stories with the Chinese public in hopes of garnering votes to win the competition. Liu Xin and his boyfriend Hu Zhidong were one of these winning couples. In their video Liu and Hu discussed the moment when Hu gave Liu a ring off of his hand as a sign of his love for his partner.

Another couple, the lone lesbian couple to be married by West Hollywood Mayor Lindsey Horvath, has yet to come out to their parents, but according to Gu, see this as an opportunity to be open with their families.

“Their attitude was like ‘I think this will be a good opportunity for us to finally be open about it to our parents and for them share our journey’” Gu said.

The cost of flying seven couples from China to the US isn’t cheap, so what’s in it for Alibaba? Gu speculates that Alibaba recognizes that the gay community’s buying power is on the rise.

“Some data has shown that China’s estimated 40-70 million LGBT consumers pose about $300 billion US purchasing power,” said Gu.

Meanwhile, the state of gay rights in China is still dire. Homosexuality wasn’t legalized in China in 1997, and it was only taken off the Ministry of Health’s list of mental illnesses in 2001. There are currently no laws preventing discrimination or harassment against gays in China and the media commonly sensors positive portrayals of the gay community.

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