Protesters marching on Hong Kong Island last November during the annual Hong Kong Pride Parade. Photo: Dickson Lee

More gay Hong Kong civil servants could marry abroad for spousal benefits, union says

Colleagues expected to ‘come out’ to claim their rights if landmark ruling for gay immigration officer seeking equal treatment for his spouse stands

Hong Kong might see more gay government employees marrying overseas to claim the same benefits for their spouses as their heterosexual counterparts, civil service unions said, after a landmark court ruling opened the door for them.

The High Court last week ruled gay civil servants who tied the knot abroad should be entitled to welfare benefits for their spouses. It called the government policy “indirect discrimination” in the case of a gay immigration officer seeking equal treatment for his spouse.

Hong Kong Federation of Civil Service Unions CEO Leung Chau-ting said the government should blame no one if more gay public sector employees were to marry in other countries as it had been depriving them of their rights.

“They’re just getting back [the benefits] married couples are entitled to,” Leung said. “The government should not deprive them of their rights because of their sexual orientation. Hong Kong is a cosmopolitan city and should revise its relevant laws to protect their rights.”

The government should not deprive them of their rights because of their sexual orientation
Leung Chau-ting, Federation of Civil Service Unions

Disciplined Services General Union chairman Lau Yuk-fai expected more gay colleagues to “come out of the closet” to claim their rights if the ruling stood.

Neither union could estimate the number of gay and lesbian civil servants in the city, saying social pressure prompted many to conceal their sexual orientation.

The Civil Service Bureau earlier said it would examine the judgment in detail with the Justice Department to decide on its next step.

Senior immigration officer Leung Chun-kwong, who married his partner, Scott Adams, in New Zealand in 2014, launched the legal challenge in 2015 against the secretary for the civil service and the inland revenue commissioner. Both officials had been unwilling to recognise his marriage.

The Court of First Instance last Friday ruled against the bureau in an unprecedented decision. In his 44-page judgment, Mr Justice Anderson Chow Ka-ming rejected the assertion that the secretary had a justifiable aim “to act in line with the prevailing marriage law of Hong Kong” and not to “undermine the integrity of the institution of marriage ... hence safeguarding public order”.

At the same time, the judge cautioned that granting benefits to same-sex marriage partners would not constitute indirect legalisation of same-sex marriage.

Government employees in same-sex marriages might seek spousal benefits, civil servant unions said. Photo: May Tse
“So far as I can see, nothing in either the Basic Law or the Hong Kong Bill of Rights ... requires that Hong Kong law must recognise same-sex marriages as legally valid,” Chow wrote in his judgment, adding that the ruling on benefits would take effect on September 1.

The court did not rule against the Inland Revenue Department, partly because a provision in the Inland Revenue Ordinance clearly states that a marriage is between a man and a woman.

Countries such as the Netherlands, France and Canada allow same-sex marriage.

According to the bureau, there were approximately 166,615 civil servants in the city as of the end of last year.

Civil servants and their spouses enjoy fringe benefits relating to medical, dental, housing and education allowances. Those who joined the government before August 1, 1996, may also claim a school passage allowance of up to HK$23,600 for their eligible children.

If civil servants are killed in the line of duty, their surviving spouses are entitled to a death gratuity, accrued Mandatory Provident Fund benefits, contract gratuity, or a death payment of 36 months’ salary, depending on appointment terms.

The surviving family may retain its departmental quarters until the normal retirement age of the deceased employee had he or she lived. As an alternative, the administration is to help the surviving family obtain more permanent accommodation in the city’s public housing estates. Children may continue to receive education allowances until they turn 19.

Last month, the wife of a Hong Kong fireman who died during a clifftop rescue received HK$4.5 million from the government for his bravery in the line of duty.
This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: new trend for gay civil servants?