A renowned private club's proposal to extend the membership privileges of married couples to unmarried partners has drawn fire from members of the gay community, who say it should include same-sex partners.
In a statement to its members last week, the Hong Kong Country Club at Deep Water Bay said its general committee was reviewing the issue of giving unmarried life partners of members the same privileges as spouse members. But the statement said 'the preferred option was to consider granting these rights to opposite-sex partners only'.
Club general manager Matthew Taverner said: '[The committee] said they were in the process of looking into it but a final decision would not be made for some time.'
He preferred to concentrate on how the club functioned at present than on what changes might take place in the future.
'At present we do not recognise anyone who is not legally married in Hong Kong,' he said. 'If a person becomes a member and they have a spouse and they present a wedding certificate, they are afforded spousal privileges.
'Other than that, the status quo at the moment is that we do not recognise any other unions. Currently if someone does not have a marriage certificate, we do not recognise them as a spouse.'
The club's statement drew fire from gay activists, with Civil Rights for Sexual Diversities chairman Roddy Shaw Kwok-wah saying same-sex partnerships should be afforded the same rights in these private clubs as everyone else.
'The Country Club is obviously trying to exclude same-sex partners and that is just not fair,' he said. 'If you are trying to be a responsible business in the Hong Kong community, then you should be trying to be accessible to everybody and be as inclusive as possible.
'I don't see how it can be detrimental, from a business perspective, to give same-sex partners the opportunity to join their club.'
The policy of the city's other private clubs on the issue is similar to that of the Hong Kong Country Club.
The Aberdeen Marina Club recognises unmarried partners, but the member must write a letter to the club's membership director for approval, making clear they will take full responsibility for their partner's behaviour.
The Clearwater Bay Golf and Country Club requires a copy of the marriage certificate before the spouse of a member can join. Unmarried partners are allowed entry as members' guests.
The Pacific Club in Tsim Sha Tsui also requires to see a marriage certificate for a spouse to join, and applications for members' unmarried partners are judged on a case-by-case basis. The same system applies at the American Club in Central.
The above clubs do not offer membership to same-sex couples.
The lawmaker for the tourism sector, Paul Tse Wai-chun, said he believed same-sex couples deserved equal treatment but any change in Hongkongers' attitudes would only come gradually.
'I would have no problem extending club membership to same-sex couples ... but it's not the reality of life here,' he said.
However, he noted the amendment to the Domestic Violence Ordinance to include same-sex couples, which came into force yesterday, was a step in the right direction.
'It is a good sign when the government is putting in legislation that provides equal protection for same-sex partners, but it took a lot of time and effort,' he said.
'We encountered a lot of difficulties trying to get the bill passed, but we must strive for equality for all in every aspect of our community and this includes private clubs.'
He hoped that with more tolerance and understanding, progress would continue to be made.