US & Canada

Gay Chinese couples marry in Los Angeles

The married couples

The two brides wore white and the 12 grooms wore suits, two in lime green with matching moustache-adorned bow ties.

The bridesmaid was a known transgendered activist in a Chinese-style gown of red and gold - "for good luck" - and the mayor of West Hollywood performed the ceremony.

But even by the "anything goes" West Hollywood standard, the wedding was unusual.

The seven couples married in the mass wedding were all from China - the winners of a contest meant to promote the rights of gay people to marry in China and around the world.

'Astronomical progress'

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The wedding rings and other items were donated by sponsors

More than 2,000 couples applied to the "We Do" contest hosted by Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba, which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Gay marriage is not legal in China, but there is a growing gay rights movement.

"The progress that's been made in terms of gay rights, for want of a better word, in China has been astronomical," said Geng Le, the CEO of Chinese gay dating app Blued, which has 15 million members.

"In fact, when Ireland recently voted on the same sex referendum, it was reported on the national media in China. So the progress has been pretty quick."

Charlie Gu, of China Luxury Advisors, organised the wedding in West Hollywood. Mr Gu's job is to help luxury brands market to the growing number of Chinese travellers and consumers.

"For a company like Alibaba there is also a strong business interest in this," Mr Gu said of the mass wedding.

"When you look at companies like Google and Apple all stepping up their game to embrace marriage equality and support this cause, Alibaba as a publicly traded company in the United States certainly wanted to elevate their status and their participating in the global business community and be part of it - do the right thing."

'Incomplete without a diamond'

The wedding was held Tuesday morning at the West Hollywood public library. It was a solemn and emotional event, with the couples walking the short aisle through the library auditorium to sit in seats until it was their turn on stage.

Image caption The marriages were officiated by West Hollywood's new mayor, Lindsey Horvath

They walked the aisle to the tune of Somewhere Over the Rainbow and each wedding took just a few moments.

The sponsors sprung for platinum Tiffany rings for the couples. But Rongfeng Duan, 38, of Shanghai had other plans. Coco Lachine - the bridesmaid - brought the Tiffany ring to him and West Hollywood Mayor Lindsey Horvath asked him to place the ring on Tao Li's finger.

But Mr Duan solicited gasps and then applause from the small crowd when he said: "No thanks, I have another."

He had another Tiffany ring. A gold one with diamonds. Mr Li broke down in tears and afterward couldn't stop admiring his sparkly new ring as the other couples were getting married.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Rongfeng Duan and Li Tao said their mothers would be hosting a reception for them when they got home to Shanghai

"It cannot be complete without a diamond," Mr Duan said after the wedding. "We already got the support from family and friends including the red envelopes [full of money] which is a tradition in China."

Mr Duan and Mr Li, the couple who wore the lime green and moustache ties, say they have matching red suits to wear for a reception their mothers are hosting for them in Shanghai to celebrate the marriage once they get home. Gay marriage may not be legal in China, but it's becoming easier to be gay, they said.

"Unfortunately, it is still the case today that for the LGBT community in China, they are unable to walk down the aisle with the person they love," Mr Le of Blued said to the wedding party.

"These seven couples are also represented of the entire Chinese LGBT community. Another reason we brought them to LA - we want to showcase to the community back in China what it can really be like."

'Demonstrating love'

To win the contest, couples had to submit a video sharing their love stories to Taobao, an online marketplace owned by Alibaba, which is similar to Amazon or eBay (and sells more than them both combined).

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The newlyweds won their places on the trip over more than 2,000 couples

The public then voted on winners and 10 couples were selected. Only seven made the trip to California because the other three couples had visa problems.

Aside from the wedding, the couples were treated to tours of Los Angeles, shopping trips and various dinners out on the town.

After the ceremony, the couples wiped away their tears as they posed for group photos with the mayor and the bridesmaid. Mayor Horvath, who is just 32 and has been mayor for just two months, said she considers it her job to fight for gay marriage around the world.

"I do believe that today's occasion not only helps to demonstrates the love and commitment all couples share but to let those people who want to shut us down and take away the rights and privileges of these couples that we will not stop," she said, "until all love can be celebrated equally under the law".

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