People fighting for a law to protect equal rights for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people must be upset by Leung Chun-ying's decision against a formal consultation on the matter. Tabling his first policy speech last Wednesday, the chief executive made it clear that the issue would not be on his agenda for the time being, saying the community is "deeply divided".
The subject is no doubt highly contentious. The tension in society can be reflected in recent rallies held by activists and religious groups for and against such a law. Leung is, therefore, entirely right in saying that the issue must be tackled cautiously. However, it does not mean the government should sit back and do nothing. A prudent step to take is to ask the public whether they want such a law.
Sadly, the chief executive thinks otherwise. He said that while some support legislation to protect equal opportunity, others fear that launching a consultation may somehow deal a blow to family, religion and education. His remarks sit oddly with an Equal Opportunities Commission survey in which 60 per cent of respondents backed consultation.
One has to ask what is so contentious about an anti-discrimination law that even a consultation is deemed too provocative? What message would the international community get if a society that prides itself on being liberal, pluralistic and tolerant cannot even broach a subject that has long been debated in other parts of the world?
Consensus-building takes time. It took nearly two decades for Hong Kong to enact four measures to outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sex, family status, disability and race. Based on previous experience, sexual orientation is likely to be more controversial. But unless we make an early start to discuss the way forward, the issue will remain unresolved. Leung has said that there was no need to wait for full consensus to move forward. If the public can have a say on contentious issues such as universal suffrage and standard working hours, there is no reason why gay rights cannot be put to consultation.