A man waves rainbow flag during the annual LGBT Pride Parade in Manhattan, New York, June 28, 2015.(Xinhua/Li Muzi)
by Xunhua writers Yuan Quan and Yuan Suwen
BEIJING, Nov. 2 (Xinhua) -- For Xia Dong, the greatest difficulty of being gay was not coming out to his parents, but marrying a girl who can continue the family line.
The 25-year-old is on his third same-sex relationship.
The first two partners were both married to women, and Xia felt very depressed when his current partner, Xun, also brought up the idea of marrying as a cover for their relationship.
But this time, the prospective bride was a lesbian.
Xun persuaded Xia to have a sham marriage to appease his conservative parents.
Their story echoes director Ang Lee's Golden Bear-winning film, The Wedding Banquet, which tells how a Taiwanese gay man marries a mainland Chinese woman in the United States to pander to his parents'demand for a grandchild.
In China, despite rising tolerance of homosexuality, it is still taboo in conventional circles and gay marriage is still illegal.
Traditional-minded parents expect their sons and daughters to produce heirs. This has become an obligation in a society of mostly of single-child families. As a result, sham marriages are on the rise.
Xun was born 26 years ago in a rural family in east China. His parents were fined under the "one-child" policy as they already had a daughter.
Xun found at a very young age that he shared many interests with his elder sister and other girls. He felt "excited" when he saw handsome guys on TV.
As he grew older, he realized he was gay. Xun told his sister who warned him not tell their parents and urged him to marry and have a baby.
His parents still have no inkling of their son's sexuality. They are arranging a wedding for him, unaware that their son and "daughter-in-law" will live separate lives with their same-sex lovers after the ceremony.
Xun says he will keep the secret and only meet his "wife" on occasions like family gatherings, particularly with the older generations.
However, Xia came out as gay, but his parents, after study and consultation, insisted on urging him to marry to continue the family line.
"My parents care more about the family reputation than their son's feelings," says Xia. "They just want me to have a child."
Xia had considered other methods, such as surrogacy, which is still banned in China. He thought about adoption, but his parents objected to a grandchild with no blood relationship.
Unwilling to openly disobey his parents, he thinks a sham marriage is the only option.
The Internet has made it easier for sexual minorities to find bogus spouses.
According to Chinagayles.com, more than 390,000 people have registered on the sham marriage website since 2005, and 50,000 have found "partners" online.
Anonymous groups on instant messaging service QQ and other forums also offer gays and lesbians opportunities to find a partner. Many of these organizations advise participants to sign contracts that spell out the obligations and rights, such as supporting parents, raising children and distribution of property.
But these contracts have no legal force, say experts. "If the 'couple' appears in court, any disputes can be solved only by the Marriage Law, rather than the contract," says Jing, a 35-year-old lesbian working for a sham marriage website with thousands of users.
Jing says the strength of a sham marriage rests on a moral understanding. Once the two sides have differences they have not foreseen, the marriage becomes very fragile and easy to end.
She raises many potential threats, such as coming out to parents, conflicts with same-sex partners, and property disputes.
Because of these, she tells people to think twice before tying the knot.
She recalls how a gay man from a rural community demanded his "wife" live with his parents after they married - a Chinese tradition, but terrifying for lesbians.
Some people choose to keep their sexuality secret and marry a straight partner, especially in rural areas.
Sham marriages are thought to be on the rise in second and third-tier cities, where social mores fail to evolve as fast as the economy. But in first-tier cities, like Beijing and Shanghai, more people are coming out to their families or just staying single.
Parents are becoming more open-minded, especially those born in 1970s when ideas of equality and personal freedom took root. "Maybe sham marriages will be a thing of the past one day," says Jing.
Li Yinhe, well-known Chinese sexologist, says the sham marriage is a very Chinese phenomenon: "In Chinese tradition, the most important social value is family. Personal happiness has to give way to family interests".
Xia Dong's parents refuse to support his same-sex relationship so long as gay marriage is illegal in China.
"So there is still possibility that one day my parents allow me to marry a man," Xia says.
(All names, except Li Yinhe, are pseudonyms. Intern Tang Yudi also contributed to this story.)