Battle lies ahead to extend gay rights in Hong Kong
The US Supreme Court's landmark decision to legalise same-sex marriage provides a good starting point to talk about gay rights in Hong Kong. But let's not jump the gun about having that law here any time soon when we don't even have a law against discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Yes, we do have rights laws on race, gender, family status and disability, but not on sexuality. Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, when he was running as a candidate, did hint at extending such laws to cover sexual orientation, but it was quietly dropped once he assumed office.
Dr York Chow Yat-ngok, head of the Equal Opportunities Commission, admits there are difficulties. He said he did not expect to see gay marriages legally recognised in his lifetime. Instead, he and the EOC should focus on gay rights protection. That is certainly a more tangible goal. Among local conservative Christian groups, though, there is strong resistance to gay rights. Their influence extends into the legislature.
The issue may seem tailor-made for the pan-democrats, but many Christians among them have serious reservations.
The Labour Party's Cyd Ho Sau-lan and People Power's Raymond Chan Chi-chuen are among the few consistent advocates in Legco for gay rights.
"We can look at how legislators view equal rights for gays and lesbians - not to mention marriage," Chow said.
"How much is the support rate among legislators? I am not quite optimistic."
Religious opponents have framed the issue as one of free speech, as they claim they wouldn't be able to speak out against homosexuality. But this is a peculiar position. In effect, every rights law, whether on race, gender, marital status or disability, places some restrictions on public speech. Civilised societies have always recognised that having rights and providing legal protection mean placing some restrictions on hate speech. No functioning community can afford to have unrestricted or unadulterated free speech.
The younger Occupy-Central generation is perhaps more tolerant and a pro-gay coalition could be more effectively built to counter the conservative resistance.