How Hong Kong government can be a role model on rights for same-sex couples

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 December, 2017, 9:30am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 December, 2017, 9:55pm

Although Hong Kong has not recognised same-sex marriage, and there is no legislation against discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, there has been increasing public recognition that same-sex couples in the city should have the same rights as heterosexual couples.

More than 10,000 people marched in the annual Hong Kong Pride Parade on November 25 to push for anti-discrimination laws and equal rights.

However, Hong Kong is still a largely conservative society, and it is hard to see same-sex marriage on the agenda for discussion in the Legislative Council in the near future.

Despite this, two landmark judicial review cases this year may pave the way towards recognition of equal rights for same-sex couples.

In the case of Leung Chun-kwong v Secretary for Civil Service, Leung, a gay senior immigration officer who married his partner in New Zealand in 2014, launched a legal challenge against the Civil Service Bureau after it refused to grant the same spousal benefits his heterosexual colleagues have access to.

The Court of First Instance in April this year ruled in Leung’s favour and said spousal benefits for same-sex couples legally married under foreign laws would not undermine the integrity of the institution of marriage in Hong Kong.

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In a more recent case, QT v Director of Immigration, QT, a British national, sought to obtain a dependant visa to stay in Hong Kong with her same-sex partner.

She challenged the Director of Immigration’s decision to refuse to grant the visa and the Court of Appeal in September reversed the decision of the Court of First Instance, ruling that the refusal amounted to indirect discrimination.

It could [strengthen] the rights of same-sex couples step by step.

Although these cases do not constitute indirect legalisation of same-sex marriage in Hong Kong, they do show that the government does not have to adopt an “all-or-nothing” approach in protecting same-sex couples’ rights.

Instead, it could take an incremental approach – strengthening the rights of same-sex couples step by step.

For example, as the biggest employer in Hong Kong, the government should act as a role model and start amending its current policies to extend various benefits to same-sex spouses.

Later, it could also consider legalising civil unions for same-sex couples. By allowing same-sex couples to form civil partnerships, it would give them access to civil rights that married heterosexual couples have (such as social security, tax benefits, next of kin rights, insurance recognition, and so on), without offending conservative and religious groups.

Wong Hiu Tung, Tai Kok Tsui