Gay marriage is illegal in China. So here's what one couple is doing about it.

Even though they didn't get the outcome they hoped for, Sun Wenlin and Hu Mingliang made history.

Several hundred cheering supporters joined Sun Wenlin and Hu Mingliang at China's Furong District Court, ready to make history.

The two men held hands as they entered the court to argue that their love and marriage are just as valid as a straight couple's. They would be the first same-sex marriage case heard before a Chinese court.


Sun Wenlin (left) and his partner, Hu Mingliang, arrive at the Furong District Court in Changsha in central China's Hunan province on April 13, 2016. AP Photo/Gerry Shih.

Sadly, the judge ruled against them, dashing their hopes of becoming the first legally married same-sex couple in China.

A lower court agreed to hear their case — a lawsuit against Changsha city authorities who rejected their marriage application — back in January. Unfortunately, the couple's argument didn't hold much legal merit, as China bans same-sex marriage pretty explicitly.

"The original text of the Marriage Law does not say one man and one woman, but a husband and a wife. I personally believe that this term refers not only to heterosexual couples but also to same-sex couples," said Sun.

While marriage rights for same-sex couples aren't in the cards just yet, China's gay rights movement has been gaining momentum.

As recently as 2001, being gay was considered a mental disorder. And while it's legal to be gay in China, the societal pressure to conform to traditional gender and family roles remains heavy, keeping many in the closet.

Gay couples kiss in 2011 during a ceremonial wedding to raise awareness for same-sex marriage. Photo by STR/AFP/Getty Images.

Still, recent years have seen increasingly bold demonstrations, pride parades, and other signs of progress.

Photo by Ted Aljibe/AFP/Getty Images.

Globally, same-sex marriage is still a fairly new concept.

It wasn't until 2000 that a country (The Netherlands) granted full marriage rights equally to both same- and opposite-sex couples, and just last year the U.S. did the same.

Vin Testa supports same-sex marriage at the Supreme Court on April 28, 2015. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

If there's one thing we can learn from the gay rights movement around the world, it's that persistence pays off.

Sun and Hu plan to appeal the ruling. Their case has no doubt set the stage for something big. Maybe they won't win, but at very least, progress has been put in motion. Whenever same-sex marriage does come to China, these two brave men need to be among the pioneers remembered for their work.

Photo by Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images.

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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

RELATED: This aboriginal Australian used kindness and tea to trump the racism he overheard.

Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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