A shaky cell phone video shows a crowded subway car in Beijing, where a man kneels before his sweetheart, holding up a big box. “I want everyone I know or I don’t know to witness this,” he says (translation from CNN). “I will be loving you for the rest of my life.”
His sweetheart accepts. Amid the other passengers’ shouts of “Kiss him!” and “Be together!”, the man rises, opens the box and removes its contents: a watch, which he fastens around his new fiancé’s wrist. They embrace. The other passengers applaud and cheer. More shouts follow, then there’s a moment of adorably awkward quiet as the newly-engaged couple stands together, arms around each other’s shoulders.
A few things about this proposal are a little atypical: the watch, rather than a more traditional ring, the overcrowded Beijing subway — not a usual romantic venue — and then, there’s the fact that both halves of the couple are men.
Same-sex marriage is not legally recognized in China (though that didn’t stop bad-ass feminists Li Tingting and her bride Teresa Xu from getting hitched). Being gay still bears a heavy stigma in the Middle Kingdom, though the nation has seen tremendous social progress over the past few decades. Homosexuality wasn’t removed from the official list of mental illnesses until 2001, and some state-endorsed textbooks still refer to it as a kind of psychological disorder.
That’s why it’s heartening (and perhaps surprising) to see a subway car full of strangers smiling and cheering for the happy same-sex couple. Beijingers are generally a lot more open-minded about sexuality than their countrymen, so a gay proposal in a smaller city might not receive such a warm response. Still, let’s hope it’s a sign of changing times.