Confusion over same-sex unions at consulates

Hong Kong government distances itself from claims that it objected to consulates performing same-sex marriage ceremonies for nationals

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 June, 2014, 4:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 June, 2014, 9:21am

Confusion is reigning over whether same-sex couples can be wed at the British consulate, after the Hong Kong government appeared to distance itself from claims that it objected to the conduct of such unions.

"It would be for individual consulates general to decide what functions and services they would wish to provide to their nationals," the Protocol Department said.

It added a caveat, saying such functions were "in line with the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and [Hong Kong's] Consular Relations Ordinance".

By last night, it was not clear how the convention and ordinance could be out of line in the British consulate's case.

The same regulations would apply to the Spanish consulate, which does provide such services in Hong Kong for their nationals.

"There's obviously something [the British consulate] needs to clarify," Nigel Collett, who first raised the matter with the South China Morning Post, said.

The writer is to marry his gay Singaporean partner in Britain this summer.

He said: "This effectively opens the door for same-sex marriages at the consulate."

At the weekend, the British consulate said it would not perform same-sex weddings in Hong Kong because of objection from the local government.

The news drew ire from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and their allies, who asked why missions in supposedly more homophobic places, such as Russia and mainland China, provided the service.

The department added that the city was committed to promoting equal opportunities: "Although Hong Kong does not have laws on same-sex marriage, the government is firmly committed to promoting equal opportunities on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity through public education and publicity, with a view to eliminating discrimination and nurturing a culture of diversity, tolerance and mutual respect."

The missions of Belgium, Sweden and New Zealand said they did not marry even heterosexual couples, while smaller missions such as those of Uruguay and Iceland are honorary consulates and were not empowered by law to provide marriage services.

Belgian Deputy Consul Paul De Vos, a 30-year diplomatic veteran, said going against the couples' wishes would be considered incredibly discourteous, and offensive to Hong Kong.

"From a practical point of view, allowing it would have no effect on the Hong Kong government," he said. "They would just continue to ignore it."

De Vos was not aware of the Hong Kong government's response when he spoke to the Post. The British consulate could not be reached for comment after office hours.