Gay rights ruling will help Hong Kong tap creative potential of diversity

The top court’s decision that immigration authorities must grant a lesbian expatriate a same-sex spousal visa was rightly welcomed by employers as boosting the city’s appeal to overseas talent

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 July, 2018, 2:01am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 July, 2018, 2:01am

Hong Kong’s legal definition of marriage as being between a man and woman remains intact amid court battles over the rights of minorities. In our socially conservative society that is unlikely to change.

But the majority must respect the rights of minorities if our freedoms are to thrive. The top court’s landmark ruling in favour of a lesbian expatriate, requiring the granting of spousal visas to same-sex partners, is therefore to be welcomed.

How same-sex spousal visa ruling will affect city’s other cases

It also has been welcomed by businesses and headhunters as striking a balance between immigration control and luring foreign talent, prompting some to suggest that it could give the city an edge over Asian rivals such as Singapore, the mainland and Japan.

The case of a British citizen known in court as QT, who had entered a civil partnership with her spouse known as SS in Britain before coming here, began in 2015 with the filing of a judicial review of the director of immigration’s refusal to issue a dependant visa.

She lost, with the High Court ruling that the case was an attempt to have same-sex marriage recognised “through the back door”.

However, the Court of Appeal overturned the lower court’s decision, saying granting a dependant visa would not endanger the institution of marriage.

Why Hong Kong still has a long way to go on LGBT rights

The Court of Final Appeal has upheld this ruling on appeal by the government, with the justices agreeing that it had failed to show how not granting dependant visas to married same-sex couples, or those in a civil union, helped fulfil its aims of “stringent” immigration control while attracting overseas talent.

The earlier Court of Appeal judgment said the policy against same-sex couples was counterproductive, making it more difficult for Hong Kong companies to attract talent from among the lesbian and gay communities overseas or relocate them to the city.

Evidence of this was an application by 12 top international financial organisations to support QT’s claim in court. The judges’ decision, based on the fundamental principle that everyone should be treated equally, did not undermine the legal definition of marriage.

It is two years since the Equal Opportunities Commission recommended the government hold a public consultation on the introduction of laws against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Same-sex spousal visas ‘give Hong Kong an edge in talent hunt’

The case of QT is not the only one that should prompt it to respond. A month ago the Court of Appeal overturned a lower court decision in favour of a gay civil servant who asked the government not to discriminate against him by refusing him and his partner, whom he married abroad, spousal benefits and joint tax filings. His lawyers are studying the decision in QT’s case.

The city needs to nurture and exploit the creative potential of diversity if it is to be competitive and become a technological hub.