Hong Kong must show greater commitment to equality

A law permitting same-sex marriage similar to that in Australia is only a dream for many in the city, but the government should face the issue and not ignore it

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 December, 2017, 1:07am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 December, 2017, 1:07am

Imagine the Hong Kong government polling citizens on a gay marriage law through a territory-wide referendum, lawmaker Raymond Chan Chi-chuen openly proposing to his same-sex partner upon the passage of such a law and jubilation erupting inside and outside the Legislative Council chamber – all taking place within just a few months.

Regrettably, what happened in Australia may only be a dream for many fighting for marriage equality in the city. The sad reality is that not only are we just nowhere near that stage, but also we do not even know where we are. The wavering or ambiguous attitudes of previous governments mean our progress on this front has been one step forward, two steps back. The stance of the incumbent administration is no more forthcoming.

The world certainly does not change because Australia has joined ranks with 25 other countries to legalise same-sex marriage. But the swift passage of the law is perhaps an experience to draw on. The dramatic decision stemmed from a government undertaking to resolve the issue with a nationwide mail survey, which gave a clear direction on the way forward with the yes-no responses at 61.6 and 38.4 per cent respectively. A bill was then tabled and passed almost unanimously by parliament last week.

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It is difficult to imagine the same quasi-referendum being implemented in Hong Kong. The previous government even went back on its promise of having a public consultation on anti-discrimination legislation, presumably because such a step was already too controversial. There are those who question whether it is right to put the issue to a public vote. While public acceptance is important for legislation of any kind, the issue is about minority rights rather than majority views.

A law to protect gay people against discrimination is already contentious. Legalising same-sex marriage is even more so, but the issue will not go away just because it is cast aside. Swift as it seemed, the Australian law also came after bitter wrangling and disputes.

The local government should show more commitment to protecting equality.