Transgender marriage legal by July even if government misses deadline

Unions will be recognised even if government fails to pass bill by deadline

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 May, 2014, 4:22am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 May, 2014, 4:22am

Marriages involving transgender people will be recognised as legal from July - whether or not the government passes the marriage amendment bill by then.

That's what officials told the Legislative Council yesterday after coming under fire for moving too slowly on the matter.

The government was set a deadline of July this year to amend the law to recognise such marriages following a landmark case in May last year, when the Court of Final Appeal granted a transgender person known as W the right to marry her male fiance.

Since then the government has been criticised for dragging its feet, and with little more than a month to go, some fear it will struggle to meet the deadline.

People Power lawmaker Raymond Chan Chi-chuen told a meeting of the Bills Committee on Marriage (Amendment) Bill yesterday that the government's slowness to act had given lawmakers too little time to discuss the bill.

He said that while the Court of Final Appeal issued its ruling in May last year, the first reading of the bill had not taken place until March this year.

"The government is forcing lawmakers to finish discussing the bill within just three months. The government is showing disrespect to the court by procrastinating," Chan said.

Other lawmakers, including the Labour Party's Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung, said that Legco might not have time to pass the bill by the July deadline.

But Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok said that transgender people would be able to marry in July, whether or not the bill had been passed.

"Even if the bill is not passed, the court's ruling will still take effect [in July]. The government will execute the judge's ruling and register marriages [involving transgender people]," Lai said.

Maggie Wong Siu-chu, Lai's deputy, added that the court's ruling would "automatically come into effect and become law" in July, even if the amendment bill had not been passed.

Lawmaker Paul Tse Wai-chun, who is also a lawyer, said the court had been unrealistic in giving the government only a year to pass the bill.

"It took the British government six years, but now the judges are only giving the Hong Kong government 12 months. It shows that some judges at the Court of Final Appeal are [living in] an ivory tower," Tse said.

"It would have been better if the court had not given the government 12 months, and just made the ruling effective immediately."