We only seek equality

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 July, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 July, 2004, 12:00am

Homosexuals (tongzhi) are no less family-oriented than the rest of society. Many want to get married and have a family, but the law does not allow it. People may feel that most of them are single and promiscuous, but that is not the case. I know many couples who have been together for a long time and have either adopted children or had some of their own. The three gay couples I know have reared their own children through surrogate mothers.

I think this is a good trend. It shows the diversity of the tongzhi community and gays' desire to form a family, despite the many difficulties imposed by society.

I am personally thinking about having a family. There are many considerations to make before taking that step, though. I am thinking more about my ability to give the child sufficient love and care, and financial support, rather than being a gay parent. I do not think being a gay parent is more of an issue than being any kind of parent.

Legalising same-sex unions is one of three things that needs to be reformed in the Hong Kong legislature. The other two are the introduction of an equal opportunities bill for people of different sexual orientations, and lowering the age of consent for two men to engage in sexual intercourse, to match that between a man and a woman.

Many people may think that gay rights' activists are fighting for privileges, but we just want equality; we do not want special treatment. Currently, there are a lot of inequalities in the law. For example, a man can marry a woman, but a man cannot marry another man. That takes away income tax benefits, as well as medical benefits and housing allowance for the spouse.

In terms of equal opportunities, tongzhi need to be protected against being sacked or kicked out of their home by their landlord just because they are gay or lesbian. If a landlord evicted someone because they had Aids or was pregnant, that person could sue. So it is all about equal treatment and fairness.

Bringing down the age of consent for two men to have sex is also a matter of fairness. Currently, a man and a woman can have sex at 16. But that same man would have to wait until he is 21 to have sex with another man to stay within the law. The argument that people are too young to make the decision is unfounded. Why can a man be mature enough to have sex with a woman but not with another man?

Currently, if an underage girl who has sex with an older man later informs the police, she will not face any criminal charges. But if an underage male does the same, he is liable to be prosecuted. My advice is to lower the age of consent between two men to 16 and drop the criminal liability for the minor male.

I think Hong Kong is a very exciting city; its gay community is also very vibrant. There are many gay activists, and currently there are about 20 tongzhi organisations in Hong Kong serving the community. We also have many establishments which cater for gays, such as bars, saunas and discos.

I think society has become more accepting of homosexuals. And many tourists, especially those from the mainland, have come to Hong Kong because gay life here is more lively. However, the government is very slow to respond to this, and there is no adequate legal structure to go with this social change. Like many other things in Hong Kong, society is leading the way, and the government is slow to react to the social changes.

Chung To is chairman of the Chi Heng Foundation, a charity for equal opportunities which organises the Tongzhi Media Awards and Aids prevention work in the mainland