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Australia

Australian same-sex vote points way to go

It all comes down to commitment to rights and freedoms, so the reluctance of Hong Kong leaders to broach the issue does not sit easily with the tag of ‘Asia’s World City’

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 November, 2017, 1:11am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 November, 2017, 1:11am

The decisive vote by Australians for same-sex marriage and a pledge by the country’s prime minister to have legislation approved by Christmas is a major soft power victory. Perceptions that Australia clings to old ways and outdated thinking will be swept aside should legislation be passed. That will draw even more investors, tourists, international events and talented people. Hong Kong’s leaders would do well to take note.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and some in his ruling conservative coalition had been reluctant to push the issue, with religion colouring their views. But their hand was forced by social and political pressure, culminating in the non-binding postal vote. Results on Wednesday showed 61.6 per cent support from an impressive 79.5 per cent turnout. Should a bill ­introduced to parliament to change the law be approved, Australia would become the 23rd country to grant marriage equality. Same-sex weddings are already legal in most of the world’s liberal Western democracies, and the nation stood out for its lack of fairness and freedom on an issue taken for granted in countries Australians liked to compare themselves with. The vote was therefore also about liberal values and commitment to rights and freedoms. Even though same-sex marriage is not a foreign policy issue, the images that have gone around the world of joyous couples celebrating the yes vote have provided welcome positive publicity.

Emotional celebrations as Australians back legalising gay marriage in national postal vote

The reluctance of Hong Kong’s leaders to broach the issue does not sit easily with the tag of “Asia’s World City”. Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and others in the government only gave a lukewarm response to the announcement last month that our city had been chosen to host the Gay Games in 2022, making it the first in Asia to stage the event. They have only “noted” the decision and authorities have yet to pledge their support, despite the economic windfall that the 15,000 athletes and their supporters will bring. Hongkongers, like others in Asia, are conservative in their views of the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals, although Taiwan’s top court in May ruled in favour of same-sex marriage. Hong Kong’s highest court in September allowed a gay woman to get a dependant visa through her partner, a first for the city.

Officials who abide by religious teachings that homosexual behaviour is unacceptable make the possibility of Hong Kong following Australia on gay marriage a challenge. Our city’s many church schools ensure conservative views on social issues such as gay rights. But there are also issues of equality and fairness and the government has to consider our city’s place in the world.