A Chinese judge ruled Wednesday that Sun Wenlin and Hu Mingliang can't get married. Sun and Hu — the couple behind China's first same-sex marriage case — would rather hear that as 'you can't get married yet.'

After the verdict, the gay couple, backed by hundreds of supporters who gathered outside a court in the central Chinese city of Changsha, vowed to press on with their fight for marriage equality. "We will keep appealing," said Sun.

Over the last year, Sun and Hu's case has begun putting gay marriage on China's agenda, calling national and international attention to the country's fight for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.

The ruling comes at an interesting and complicated juncture — a time when China is jailing human rights lawyers in record numbers, but at the same time, LGBT advocates are finding creative ways to get their cases to the courts. On Monday, a court in the southern city of Guiyang heard the country's first transgender labor rights case. In the last year, Chinese judges have been brought cases touching on censorship of LGBT content and homophobia in textbooks.

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Since Chinese law does not account for the possibility of discrimination based on gender or sexual identity, the cases have not broken any legal ground on civil rights. But each development has garnered coverage in the Chinese press, getting the country talking at the very least.

The desire to break the silence was part of what convinced Sun and Hu to sue. Sun, who works in tech, and Hu, a security guard, were both raised in the Chinese heartland in families that did not talk about sexual identity. Both have felt — and fought — pressure to stay silent, to be ashamed.

Last June, they went to their local civil affairs bureau and tried to register their marriage, only to be turned away.

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They found a lawyer and — in a first — a court to hear their case. The Furong District court published an account of the ruling saying that China's marriage laws "explicitly stipulate that the subjects of a marriage are a man and a woman." So Sun and Hu's application for marriage registration did not comply with the law.

Sun said he was "not happy" with the outcome, but would fight on. "It’s going to be a long battle," he said.

Gu Jinglu reported from Beijing.

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