LAVENDER marriage is getting popular in China as more Chinese homosexuals find it a tolerable compromise to appease their parents and, for some, the best way to have children, Chinese media reported.
A website chinagayles.com catering to Chinese seeking lavender marriage has garnered close to 400,000 members after its launch in 2005.
But it has since been eclipsed by an upstart - queers.cn or caihongjiayuan, which means Perfect Rainbow Match - that emerged last year and quickly attracted more than a million members from both sexes.
"The demand is very high, mostly from the age group of between 28 and 30 years old," said Liao Zhuoying, 32, who launched the app with the help of Chinese venture investors, reported the Hong Kong-based magazine Yazhou Zhoukan.
"What we need to do is to make our service more differentiated from those of our rivals," added Mr Liao, who is straight and has a child. Lavender marriage refers to the legal wedlock between a male and a female who each has or desires a same-sex partner but needs a heterosexual marriage as a front due to various social and psychological reasons.
Calling lavender marriage a "front" is perhaps more relevant in China than in the West, where the arrangement often does not require concealment of one's actual sexual orientation.
"Our members are mainly concentrated in the first-tier cities, namely Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen," Lin Hai, who operates chinagayles.com told the Chinese edition of Britain's Financial Times (FT).
"That's because these people live far away from their hometowns and so are less likely that their parents would discover the truth behind their marriage," he said.
Stories of homosexuals seeking lavender marriage so as to appease their parents - who mostly do not know their children's sexual preference and cherish the dream of having a grandchild - are abundant in Chinese websites.
In Chinese lavender marriages, children are conceived usually through artificial insemination.
But the arrival of a baby is likely to be welcomed by the mother but not the father.
One case related in FT Chinese told of a 31-year-old man in Beijing who said he has to put up with the "torture" of living with his "sham" wife and their child, although his sexual preference is no longer a secret. Sociologist Li Yinhe called "Chinese lavender marriage" unique as it is driven by the belief that every marriageable member in a family must fulfil the duty of carrying on the family line, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
According to Britain's Daily Mail, lavender marriage was popular among Chinese homosexuals born in the 1970s but less so among those born after 1980.
But online forums showed the contrary, with many in their 20s and 30s expressing preference for a lavender spouse to a heterosexual or same-sex one.
In China, same-sex marriage is illegal and 80 per cent of the population frown upon it, according to one survey.
Zhang Beichuan, a noted gender study expert, estimated that up to 25 million heterosexual Chinese women were unknowingly married to gay husbands, who had tied the knot under parental and social pressure.
The figure is possible as there are now about 40 million homosexuals in China.
"Such marriage tragedy should be avoided," said Mr Liao, suggesting lavender is a humane alternative, compared with causing hurt to straight women.
Mr Lin, who organises at least one dating gathering each month for his members, noted that participants from rural villages are now growing in number.
"The reach of the Internet has made many of our rural 'comrades' and 'lalas' understand the choices they can have and they are responding," he noted.
"Comrade" is the Chinese euphemism for gay and "lala" for lesbian.
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