A court in Beijing has proposed that legislation should be drafted to allow marriages to be annulled if a person discovers that their spouse is gay.

The First Intermediate People’s Court of Beijing published a report last week which argued that it should be possible for people who have unwittingly married gay partners to file for an annulment instead of a divorce.

The report notes that divorce still carries a social stigma in parts of China and that women, in particular, come out of divorce situations unfavourably. An annulment would mean that the legal status of both spouses would revert back to ‘single’ rather than ‘divorced’.

Professor Liu Bohong spoke about the stigma against divorced women: “Men traditionally intend to choose a first-time bride, a virgin. Such preferences have lead to a preference for being ‘single’ among women.”

The court’s proposal follows a spate of stories about “gay wives” and growing public concern.

In 2012 a university professor made headlines when he estimated that 16 million Chinese women were married to gay men.

Earlier this month, a lawsuit against a man, brought by the parents of his wife who committed suicide in 2011 after finding out he was gay, was dismissed by the court.

An anonymous spokesperson for the Tongqi Association, a support service for the wives of gay men, explained why the matter was such a problem. She said:

“A divorced man in his 40s can still be sought after and find a 20-something woman to marry. But when it comes to a divorced woman of the same age, that is absolutely not the case.”

The proposal has been celebrated by women’s groups but has caused anger among gay rights groups, who feel that not enough has been done for China’s gay population.

“I think allowing the wives of gay men to annul their marriages without providing support to their gay partners accordingly will squeeze us out,” said a 24-year-old gay student from Shanghai who wished to remain anonymous.

Same-sex marriage is not legal in China and many gay activists say that their right to marry and start a family is unrecognised by the law.