The clever way Utah made it easy for hundreds of Chinese same-sex couples to get married
Sometimes you've got to make the law work for you.
Utah probably doesn't come to most people's minds when they think of places that are champions of marriage equality. Especially in Utah County, where Provo is located, which has the highest concentration of Latter-day Saints (72%) of any place in the U.S.
Latter-day Saints, known as Mormons, can be excommunicated from the church for acting on LGBTQ feelings and have put large amounts of money into campaigns to make same-sex marriage illegal.
However, two loopholes in Utah County law reported by The Guardian have allowed same-sex couples from across the globe to marry in the state. First, Utah does not have residency or citizenship requirements for marriage licenses. Second, Utah County allows for international marriages online.
\u201cSame-sex marriages aren\u2019t recognized in China. But for some Chinese couples, a Utah marriage certificate could make a big difference. https://t.co/XJxVFSaKDt\u201d— The Wall Street Journal (@The Wall Street Journal) 1665499507
The county rolled out online marriages via Zoom during the pandemic, which made it easy for people overseas to get married. All they have to do is fill out some paperwork, pay $100 and hire a licensed officiant. The paperwork is “to verify who they are,” radio host and licensed marriage officiant in Utah Michael Foley told The Guardian, “to make sure they’re of age, that it’s not part of some kind of scam, that it’s not some kind of human trafficking.”
When word of this loophole spread on Chinese LGBTQ websites, same-sex couples from all over the country began virtually flocking to Utah to get hitched. Rest of World reports that more than 200 same-sex couples from China have tied the knot through the county’s digital licensing system since 2021.
In China, same-sex marriages are illegal and marriages conducted overseas aren't recognized but couples are happy to have their relationships recognized by a legal authority somewhere in the world.
\u201cLGBTQ+ couples in China use loophole to marry on Zoom, in\u00a0Utah https://t.co/BLzotdk5wF\u201d— abdil (@abdil) 1665385409
However, the Utah provisions are beneficial to residents of the Chinese city of Hong Kong, which has a little more autonomy given its designation as a Special Administrative Region. Hong Kong residents who get married in other parts of the world can apply for dependent visas for their partners. These couples are also allowed to file their taxes as married in Hong Kong.
Even though same-sex Chinese couples aren’t married in the state where they live, having their relationships legally recognized in Utah has strengthened them. It’s a strange situation when couples can escape the tyranny of the state in a place where religious fundamentalism can be just as repressive.
“Even without legal status in China for now, many gay couples … have told me that marriage has made their relationships feel more secure,” Zhijun Hu wrote in ChinaFile. “And, as one friend told me when he and his husband go to a place where marriage equality is the law of the land, their marriage means that they ‘will be treated like a family and not like strangers.’”
Newlyweds Liu Yangming and Zhu Guangyu believe that their marriage ceremony and Utah license have helped to solidify their relationship. “It made our love stronger,” Liu told Rest of World. “My husband was talking more about our responsibilities. Before, we thought we might break up someday, but now we can’t just break up.”
Foley loves being able to help people from around the world realize their dream of being married, even if it means he has to get up at odd hours of the night to accommodate his Chinese customers.
“It just makes me happy,” Foley said. “That’s the stuff that makes me get up at three o’clock in the morning to do it.”