“Traditional family values” are loudly trumpeted in Hong Kong whenever politically powerful Christian groups are forced to confront their declining influence over the rights of others in a secular, liberal society. Recent outcry over the Equal Opportunities Commission’s recommendation of enhanced equality legislation for sexual minorities illustrates this point. But what are “traditional family values” in Hong Kong, and how have these changed over time?

Traditionally, Europeans (generally Christians) of both sexes were monogamous by law and custom; extramarital relation­ships remained commonplace, if hypo­criti­cally downplayed, facts of life. In contrast, Chinese men (mostly Taoists or Buddhists) – though not women – were as polygamous as their financial means, personal tastes and physical stamina allowed. This “traditional value” remained legal in Hong Kong until the Marriage Ordinance was enacted in 1971. Wealthy Chinese men with only one wife, unless they were Christian, were objects of pitying amusement. Had he no normal interest in sex? Was he henpecked into submission by a domineering spouse? Or maybe women weren’t “his thing”, and he’d been married off only to produce an heir and keep wagging tongues at bay.

Female infanticide, bonded servitude, foot-binding and the drowning of adulter­esses in pig baskets – all far more widely practised than most can comfortably acknowledge today – also came under the heading of “traditional family values” until recent decades.

“All religions are equally sublime to the ignorant, useful to the politician, and ridiculous to the philosopher,” noted Edward Gibbon, attributing the line to the Roman poet Lucretius, and so it is in contemporary Hong Kong. Strong anecdotal evidence suggests that an unholy nexus of Christian fundamentalists in senior government positions, hard-to-prove strategic funding by similarly inclined tycoons, and their corresponding hold over local educational institutions, has been allowed to influence official policy in recent years. In Hong Kong’s secular society based on rule of law, all reli­gious groups are accorded official tolerance, and private and personal courtesy. Private beliefs should not and must not have any agency whatsoever in the formation of public policy. But clearly they do.

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A wearisome tendency to cry persecution the moment their socially divisive bigotry is brought into focus, and thus shut down any serious debate, has been a Christian hallmark since the religion’s beginnings. In consequence, Hong Kong’s Christian groups are allowed to persist in the belief that lack of serious challenge stems from an inherent value found in their values, rather than acknowledge that significant economic power translates into serious political clout that must, in turn, be pandered to.

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Sexual minorities are the only group it remains accept­able to openly discriminate against in Hong Kong under the guise of protecting “tradi­tional family values”. Over the past couple of cen­tur­ies, the racism, sexism and oppression that historically char­ac­­terised “tradition­al” Christian-control­led societies has been steadily beaten back by the forces of reason. Nevertheless, this creed’s prac­titioners continue to con­gra­­tulate them­selves on having progres­sed of their own accord, rather than being reluctantly dragged towards more enlightened views by generations of free­thinkers who were viciously persecuted, and often murdered, for their trouble.

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Traditional China’s millennia-old tolerant humanism openly contradicts the sour prohibitions and bitterly divisive sense of superiority by divine decree unfortunately bequeathed to modern humanity by an ancient tribe of Middle Eastern desert herdsmen.

High rents, long working hours, poor mental health provision, grotesque income disparity and a pressure-cooker education system pose far greater threats to stable family life in Hong Kong than does according equal rights to sexual minorities. Denying these entitlements will not make heterosexual couples any less likely to quarrel, divorce, thrash their spouses or abuse their children. If Hong Kong’s Christian bigots spent a fraction of the time they expend obsessing over what consenting adults choose to do in the privacy of their own lives on, instead, combating the quantifiable harm caused by intolerance, ignorance, inequality and greed, local society would be a far healthier place.