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China Lifts Decades-Old Regulations on Couples Readying for Marriage - 2003-08-20


In what some see as a sign of growing personal freedoms in China, the government has announced couples will no longer need to get their bosses' permission to get married.

Under the current rules, Chinese couples must get their employers to issue a certificate stating that the would-be newlyweds are not already married to someone else. The law, which dates back to the early days of the communist state, was meant to prevent polygamy in a country where the practice was once common.

China's Ministry of Civil Affairs this week announced that starting on October 1, people no longer will need the employer's certificate. The government also is eliminating the requirement, common in many countries, that couples undergo medical examinations before they are issued a marriage license.

Young people hail the move as a sign that the state is becoming less involved in such personal things as relationships between men and women.

This 30-year-old Beijing resident, who asked to not be named, has applied for a marriage license and is to be married next year. She welcomes the change.

"It is more convenient and faster than before, and it is not over-elaborate anymore," she said. "I registered last year, and I had to get some identification from the sub-district office and the place that has my archives. Then, I had to get a medical check-up, and had to ask for many days' leave [from work] in this process," she explained.

The bride-to-be said she is especially pleased that she and her future husband will not have to go through the medical exam, which she saw as an invasion of privacy.

"I think this is a matter of two people, if one does not care whether his or her spouse has a problem, then I think this is a personal decision. People should be responsible to themselves," she said.

The state news agency, Xinhua, quotes a Ministry of Civil Affairs official as saying the old rule violated to some extent the policy of freedom of marriage.

The move represents new personal freedoms previously unheard of in communist China, where employers at state-run companies controlled many aspects of workers' lives, including where they could live, or where their children could go to school.

The new marriage rules are the latest in a series of changes regarding personal freedoms. The government of the Jiangsu province in the east recently removed a ban against unmarried couples living together.

Despite the changes, things remain the same for members of China's homosexual community. The latest set of rules continues to stipulate that homosexual marriages are illegal.

International gay rights advocates have long criticized China for being slow to grant equal rights to homosexuals. It was two years ago that Chinese health professionals were directed to stop treating homosexuality as a mental disorder, decades after many Western nations did so.