While Valentine’s Day might have come and gone in a jiffy for most of us, it remains a memorable celebration for 10 same-sex couples based in China. A contest titled “We Do” arranged by Taobao (a subsidiary of Alibaba) – China’s largest online shopping platform – involved more than 400 participants and promised the winners an all-expenses-paid, week-long wedding and honeymoon trip to California in the summer of 2015. The couples were shortlisted down to 10 through public voting procedures based off short videos where the couples explained how they met and why marriage is important to them.
In a world where almost 40 percent of all countries have laws that criminalize homosexuality (the People’s Republic of China being a country that doesn’t legally recognize same-sex marriage), Taobao’s marketing campaign for Valentine’s Day is laudable. It is wonderful to see businesses step up for human rights when countries fail to do so. This campaign is a throwback to 2003 when the National People’s Congress submitted legislation to allow same-sex marriages, but failed when the proposal didn’t garner 30 votes for a placement on the agenda. Such unsuccessful propositions explain why society often looks toward pushing large companies to address pressing social issues and causes rather than trying to change rigid (and sometimes appalling) government policies.
It is easy to be skeptical of the whole campaign and simply label it as a strategy on behalf of Alibaba to increase its market share. While that may be (and probably is) true to some extent, Alibaba spokeswoman Melanie Lee told Reuters, “It’s more a symbolic kind of gesture.” I, for one, wholeheartedly agree with her statement. Now, although the 10 couples’ marriage will not be legally recognized in their hometown, it does become a legitimate binding of their relationship in California (one of more than 30 U.S. states where same-sex marriage is legal). It is an admirable revolution of sorts, and gives homosexual couples worldwide the respect and support that they deserve. It reminds them that they are not alone in this battle to gain equality.
Although Alibaba’s campaign doesn’t exactly speak for the country, China has come a long way from once listing homosexuality as a mental disorder. It was dismaying to see my own home country, India, renew its Section 377 of the Penal Code in 2013. However, what is more confounding is that there are 76 countries worldwide that still have atrocious punishments for being a homosexual. It is about time that the 76 countries realize that love is love and take a step in the right direction. For starters, they could take cues from Alibaba’s campaign and legalize same-sex marriage. Changing adamant and widespread cultural mindsets will be a lengthy procedure, but can be offset by governments actually recognizing love between any human beings, regardless of gender, as one and the same.