Hypocrisy evident when it comes to homosexuality

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 January, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 January, 2010, 12:00am

Beneath its modern, multicultural exterior, Hong Kong remains strongly attached to traditional values. We are reminded of this by one of our exclusive private clubs. The Hong Kong Country Club has been serving a multicultural membership since 1962. Yet for all the social changes that have taken place in the decades since, it is still 'reviewing the issue' of extending the membership privileges of married couples to unmarried partners.

The club has obviously not been in a great hurry to keep up with social trends. And even now, its general manager says a final decision will not be made for some time. The review is nonetheless welcome. Any move to roll back gratuitous discrimination, even in a private club and however modest, is consistent with our city's reputation for tolerance and diversity.

Sadly, however, it falls short of upholding it. The review has attracted criticism from the gay community because the club says the 'preferred option' is to confine the extension of spousal rights to opposite sex partners only. It seems from this cautious statement to members that the club is more likely to opt for the status quo than consider including same-sex couples.

This is not surprising because Hong Kong remains a deeply conservative Chinese society. Evidence of that is to be found in the law passed recently to protect same-sex partners from domestic violence. To meet the concerns of lawmakers, religious conservatives and parents' groups about implicit recognition of same-sex unions, the domestic violence ordinance had to be renamed the Domestic and Cohabitation Relationships Violence Ordinance.

A good deal of hypocrisy lies behind attitudes towards homosexuality. It is an open secret that some entertainment stars and executives are homosexual, as are quite a few members of prominent families in business and government. But our society tends to be comfortable about their lifestyle only so long as they are discreet and do not expect to be explicitly acknowledged.

Support for better legal protection of the gay community against discrimination is growing, in keeping with Hong Kong's claim to be a world city. Relying on education to change public attitudes, rather than laws, risks sending the message that it can be tolerated.

Exclusive private clubs are not known for moving ahead of community values - and to be fair, the Hong Kong Country Club is in some ways ahead of its peers. It is ironic that in trying to move ahead it has found itself accused of prejudice. However, if by the time it turns 50, in 2012, it has at least acknowledged unmarried partners, that is a step in the right direction.