Lawmakers' opposition to gay rights law shames Hong Kong

Albert Cheng says pro-government lawmakers' opposition to debate on gay rights law is an example of how conservative forces dominate Legco

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 November, 2012, 2:20am

It was a shameful day for the Legislative Council when the pro-establishment camp voted down a motion calling for public consultation on legislation to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The action of these legislators was a shocking display of bigotry and disregard for the public interest. The pro-establishment camp has effectively taken Legco hostage, disrupting some of its main functions that include enacting, amending and repealing laws, as well as monitoring the administration.

The proposal was put forward by the Labour Party's Cyd Ho Sau-lan. It would only have been the first of many steps to explore the issue; we are still years away from talking about enacting the relevant legislation.

And, even if the motion for legislation to outlaw such discrimination was passed, it was non-binding anyway.

The entire exercise was merely symbolic, to allow members to express opinions on the issue and gauge public views.

In fact, homosexual acts between consenting adults in private were decriminalised in the early 1990s. Yet there are still some conservative forces in Hong Kong that oppose homosexuality and discriminate against homosexuals and their lifestyle choices.

This not only threatens the fabric of a civilised society, it also disrupts peace and harmony, and affects the long-term development of a city as culturally diverse as Hong Kong. It could damage our reputation as an international metropolis.

The public seems quite open and tolerant on this issue, so it's all the more shocking to see some ultra-conservative legislators going against the general sentiment.

According to a University of Hong Kong survey that was commissioned by Ho, nearly 76 per cent of respondents agreed there was a certain degree of discrimination against homosexuality in society. More than 60 per cent said there should be legislation in place to protect the rights of homosexuals.

The respondents hoped the government would launch a consultation to gauge public views and provide information that dispelled misconceptions and fears.

Ho's proposed motion was fully in line with the make-up of a modern society; we all should respect individual rights and freedoms and embrace the core values that have made Hong Kong what it is today.

Members of the pro-establishment camp in Legco, led by the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, have revealed their true colours, exposing the ugly underbelly of an outmoded conservative force that continues to grip the council.

The repugnant comments of some lawmakers were not only hostile, discriminatory and insulting, they also showed complete disrespect for people's rights.

We should not tolerate such mindsets and behaviour; instead we should be embracing equal opportunities for all.

In fact, without the special immunity from prosecution and privileges afforded to speakers in Legco, some lawmakers could easily have faced legal action by gay and lesbian groups, while the Equal Opportunities Commission could have been investigating as well.

The Equal Opportunities Commission chairperson, Lam Woon-kwong, plays a gatekeeper role in fighting all forms of discrimination and is supposed to be a staunch supporter of equal rights for all. Yet, we have heard little from him on this issue.

He should be fulfilling his duty to address the matter in an open, transparent and just manner.

The monopolising of Legco will continue to hinder our democratic development.

The current set-up favours the pro-establishment camp. That's not something we can change overnight, but at the next opportunity, the people of Hong Kong should band together and vote the pro-government lawmakers out of the council to ensure that the voice of the majority can be heard again.

In this way, we can truly democratise the legislature.

If we look at the recent US presidential election as a guide, Barack Obama's victory, giving him a second four-year term, showed that his policies are generally accepted by the people, especially minorities and the underprivileged.

Clearly his election rival, Mitt Romney, who seemed to serve the interests of white Americans and the rich and powerful, was not the choice of the majority of Americans.

Romney might have presented some sound economic policies during the election campaign, but his conservative views on a range of issues concerning the poor and minorities didn't go down well with voters.

The beauty of democracy is that it is based on respect for human rights, a safeguarding of public opinions and upholding the principles and values of individual rights and freedoms. We ought to remember this.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator. [email protected]