In Poznan, Poland, conservative councilor Michal Grzes fumed over his local zoo acquiring a "gay" elephant "Ninio". "We were supposed to have a herd, but as Ninio prefers male friends over females how will he produce offspring?". While some Poznan clerks may be looking into Ninio's return policy, Polarland Zoo in Harbin, China, prides itself over conducting a wedding ceremony for its gay penguin couple. According to the zoo keepers, the penguin couple adopted rejected chicks and proved to be the best parents in the zoo.
Apart from the high tabloid content of these news stories, they also tell us about different attitudes towards homosexuality in China and Europe. Marriage in Europe is generally seen as a sacrament, a god-given institution, a divinely appointed and defined institution. According to mainstream church reading of the Bible, marriage is defined by heterosexuality. Homosexuality is not supposed to be and therefore an aberration, a consequence of sin. In the most religious Western countries, gay marriage therefore sparks great controversy. Examples of homosexuality in nature is especially controversial, because it potentially undermines argument that homosexuality is unnatural and sinful.
China, with its long secularist, or at least multi-religious tradition, marriage is not necessarily a sacrament.
Marriage is foremost a social, secular, institution. This does not necessarily open up marriage for same-sex couples. However, marriage as a social construction does not exclude people on the basis of what is considered 'natural' or 'original'. Whether homosexuality is nature or nurture does not directly affect social acceptance. Neither does gay marriage spark controversy because of religious reasons. Rather the determinant for acceptance is defined by the immediate social environment, rather than church or state. Therefore, depending on these immediate socio-cultural conditions gay marriage may acceptable or not. When it involves cute penguins or when it involves 'symbolic gay marriages' on Tiananmen square last summer, gay marriage is quite acceptable. However the broader acceptance, into daily life is absent, because there is a social expectation to start a family, whether you're gay or not.
It is not uncommon to find married men in China who are still ('practicing') gay. From a Western lens, this is seems hypocritical, and perhaps in many cases it is. However, many men's homosexuality is a public secret for the people around them, including their next of kin. Homosexuality is does not necessarily lead to controversy and scandal, as long as men abide by the socio-cultural norm to be a husband and father. I find this phenomenon quite common, also with heterosexual Chinese men; it is not unusual for Chinese men to have extramarital affairs which are often public secret.
In Western popular opinion, it seems like the Chinese government is actively oppressing homosexuals. In fact, homosexuality is not an offense according to Chinese law. That doesn't make the Chinese government gay rights activist. However, much of the unease with gay marriage is not political, or religious, it is based upon a deeply socio-cultural understanding, at the level of friends and family, of what marriage should be. Many Chinese parents' concerns over their children's homosexuality is not because it is sin, but because children should marry (and reproduce). And because being openly-homosexual may lead to a serious lost of face for the family.
It may be interesting to note that the Chinese attitude towards women and homosexuality may be slightly different. Under the one-child policy, gender imbalance has become a problem. Women who exclusively date women are seen as contributing to the problem of a shortage of women.
From the view point of 'emancipation' it is difficult to draw conclusions on the differences in attitudes towards homosexuality in China and the West. In some Western countries we see some of the most progressive and accepting policies for homosexuals; while other Western governments are downright anti-gay. In this spectrum it seems China's situation is somewhere in the middle, at it will probably stay there for quite a while. On the one hand socio-cultural attitudes are deeply ingrained; on the other hand, gay emancipation is not one of the most pressing issues in China.
In the image you see a detail of the National Aquatics Center, better known as the 'Watercube', one of Beijing's most impressive new buildings.