British consulate to press Hong Kong on gay marriage after diplomatic backtrack

After Hong Kong appeared to amend its position same-sex marriages at consulates, Britain's representatives want clarification

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 June, 2014, 4:31am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 May, 2017, 12:44pm

The British consul-general is asking the Hong Kong authorities to clarify whether same-sex marriages can take place at the consulate.

The British consulate said on Monday that the city government had "raised an objection" to it solemnising same-sex marriages.

But the Hong Kong government's protocol department said on Tuesday that it was up to consulates to decide what services they wished to provide their nationals in line with the Vienna Convention and Hong Kong's Consular Relations Ordinance.

Yesterday a spokesman for the British consulate said: "We will be making further inquiries with the HKSAR government regarding the potential for the consulate-general to solemnise same-sex marriages for British nationals in Hong Kong as a matter of priority."

British diplomatic missions are not subject to local law, but British law prohibits them from issuing marriage licences if the host country objects.

Mainland China, Azerbaijan, notoriously anti-gay Russia and 20 other countries have allowed same-sex unions at British consulates.

Consul-general Caroline Wilson took to Twitter to repeat the language of her office's spokesman.

She also "favourited" a tweet that called for "common sense to prevail" on the issue and for the Hong Kong consulate to avoid having a "worse record than Moscow/Beijing".

In its statement on Tuesday, the Hong Kong government also reaffirmed its commitment to promoting equal opportunities on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity "with a view to eliminating discrimination and nurturing a culture of diversity, tolerance and mutual respect".

The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, ratified in 1963 and signed by 177 parties, defines consular relations between participating states. It allows the consulate of a foreign nation to act as a "notary and civil registrar and in capacities of a similar kind" in the country where it is operating.

But a spokesman for the Brazilian consulate in Hong Kong pointed out that the convention prohibited "civil registration services that may be contrary to local laws".

The Brazilian consulate does not solemnise any marriages.

The Vienna convention's regulations would apply to the Spanish consulate, which does provide same-sex marriages in Hong Kong for its nationals.

The initial news of the Hong Kong ban by the British consulate had drawn ire from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and their allies. They asked why British missions in supposedly less tolertant places were able to provide the service.