Chinese academics are calling for the country’s estimated 40 million homosexuals to be given the right to marry.

Professor Li Yinhe, a sociologist and campaigner for LGBT rights, and Zhang Beichuan, a leading scholar of homosexuality, have been at the forefront of a campaign to allow same-sex marriage in China.

Although the world’s most populous country has a conservative culture, partly due to Communist repression, laws have been slowly relaxed, with homosexuality effectively being decriminalised in 1997.

Li Yinhe previously attempted to submit same-sex marriage proposals to the National People’s Congress, China’s highest legislative body, but did not succeed due to lack of support from delegates.

Campaigners say that it would also promote safe sex and prevent the spread of HIV/ AIDS.

China Daily reports that Zhang Beichuan feels that “legal unions for homosexuals would lead to more stable same-sex relationships” and “help better protect the legitimate rights of same-sex lovers.”

The report in China Daily is significant as the press in China is controlled and censored and the newspaper is the widest-read state-run title published in English.

Many scholars and members of China’s burgeoning gay community feel that the country has retreated to its traditional ambiguity about homosexuality, with religions such as Buddhism and Taoism promoting diversity.

Unlike other religions such as Christianity, homosexuality has never been viewed as a sin.

This extends to literature and historical accounts as well as in practice, where it was often the case that young men could have sex with each other for friendship and married men take concubines of both sexes, as long as they were married and produced heirs.

PinkNews.co.uk reported that last year when China approved its first gay and lesbian organisation, Happy Together, which counts professors, teachers and students among its members.