Fight for equality in Hong Kong: gay civil servant sues to claim same employee benefits as heterosexual couples

Man who married his partner in New Zealand says in High Court document that the government’s refusal to recognise their union is discriminatory and unconstitutional

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 December, 2015, 6:55pm
UPDATED : Friday, 26 May, 2017, 12:44pm

A homosexual civil servant has challenged the government’s refusal to recognise his same-sex marriage and says he and his partner are unable to enjoy the same benefits as heterosexual couples.

In a High Court document calling for a review, Leung Chun-kwong, a senior immigration officer, claimed that the decisions by the heads of the Civil Service Bureau and Inland Revenue discriminated against his sexual orientation and were unconstitutional.

His application document states: “At its heart, this matter concerns protection for the dignity of a historically oppressed class in our society – homosexual persons, a substantial portion of our society. Allowing discriminatory treatment against such a minority undermines the law.”

Leung joined the government in 2002. He met his partner, Scott Paul Adams, a Hong Kong resident, in 2005 and they married in Auckland, New Zealand, on April 18 last year.

He reported this to the Civil Service Bureau in April last year but was informed that its regulations viewed marriage as “the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman”. Thus, his union with Adams “falls outside the meaning of marriage”.

READ MORE: Divided Hong Kong won’t pass gay marriage law ‘in my lifetime’, says equality watchdog chief

He wrote to the bureau again in October last year claiming the government was in breach of its code of conduct in denying his spouse the same medical and dental service as heterosexual couples. But he received the same reply from the bureau on December 17 last year.

Leung also contacted the tax department to change his marital status to married in May this year in order to seek a joint assessment with his spouse. The tax department refused to recognise his marriage.

The officer applied for legal aid to file this application. He claimed that the government’s insistence that marriage could only be between one man and one woman discriminated against his sexual orientation. He also found it was against Hong Kong’s Bill of Rights, which says all residents are equal.

Leung said the bureau based its decision on “the socio-moral values and family ethics of the community” and “prudence in the use of public resources and practical operational requirements” to refuse his partner the benefits.

READ MORE: Lesbian challenges Hong Kong’s decision to refuse her a dependant visa in court

But he claimed this attitude was discriminatory and the measure induced “only heterosexual couples to marry”. He found the government intended to use employee benefits to promote traditional family units.

It is not the first time the government has faced such a challenge. A British lesbian sought a judicial review against the Immigration Department for denying her a dependant visa when she followed her spouse to relocate to the city in May this year. A judgment in that case is pending.