Denying benefits to Hong Kong civil servant’s gay partner a matter of law, not discrimination, court told

The city does not recognise same-sex partners even though such unions are legal overseas, government lawyer argues

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 December, 2016, 6:26pm
UPDATED : Friday, 26 May, 2017, 12:43pm

A gay civil servant who married his partner overseas was not entitled to the same employee benefits enjoyed by a person in a heterosexual union because his same-sex marriage was not recognised under Hong Kong law, the High Court heard on Friday.

Leung Chun-kwong had sought a judicial review against the Secretary for the Civil Service and Commissioner of Inland Revenue, the first time a Hong Kong court had been asked to accord equal treatment to people who entered into lawful, same-sex marriages overseas.

Barrister Lisa Wong Kwok-ying SC, representing the government, denied the claim that refusing Leung access to the benefits discriminated against the civil servant’s sexual orientation.

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Hong Kong law did not recognise his union even though Leung legally married his spouse in New Zealand, she argued.

Leung, a Chinese national and Hong Kong permanent resident, sought to update his personal records with the civil service after tying the knot with his husband in 2014.

But the authority refused to recognise his marital status and correspondingly denied his application to obtain dependant employment benefits and allowances for his husband.

The Inland Revenue Department similarly did not recognise Leung’s marriage and refused to assess him and his husband as a married couple for tax purposes.

“The decisions had nothing to do with discrimination,” Wong argued on the second day of the hearing for permission to review the government’s refusals and their substantive merits.

The lawyer said Hong Kong law only recognised unions between a man and a woman, despite the existence of other relationships in the city before the 1970s, such as polygamy under Chinese customary law.

Nigel Kat SC, representing Leung, argued that denying his client the entitlements discriminated against the civil servant’s sexual orientation.

After hearing arguments from both sides, Mr Justice Anderson Chow Ka-ming reserved judgment to a later date.