Gay Hong Kong civil servant claims discrimination after partner he wed overseas denied benefits
Judicial review also covers tax body’s refusal to assess pair as married couple
The government’s decision to deprive a gay civil servant who married his partner overseas from enjoying the same benefits as a person in a heterosexual union was discriminatory, the High Court heard on Thursday.
Leung Chun-kwong sought a judicial review against the Secretary for the Civil Service and the Commissioner of Inland Revenue, marking the first time a Hong Kong court was asked to accord equal treatment to people who entered into lawful, same-sex marriages overseas.
Nigel Kat SC, representing Leung, argued that refusing his client access to employee benefits discriminated against the civil servant’s sexual orientation.
Leung, a Chinese national and Hong Kong permanent resident, married his spouse in New Zealand in 2014.
The Civil Service Bureau denied his application to obtain dependent employment benefits and allowances for his husband on the basis that it did not recognise his marriage, and correspondingly, his spouse as his dependent.
The Inland Revenue Department similarly did not recognise Leung’s marriage and refused to assess him and his husband as a married couple for tax purposes.
In the first day of the hearing for permission to review the two decisions as well as the case’s substantive merits, Kat argued that equal treatment before the law was guaranteed by the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance.
He said the decisions had been based on the authorities’ definition of a marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
“[The authorities] only recognise heterosexual marriages and don’t consider anything else,” the barrister said, adding that Leung and his partner had been differently treated to their detriment.
He said Leung’s relationship with his partner was no different to that of a heterosexual couple.
The court heard Kat quote a passage from his client’s submission claiming the pair had committed themselves to each other.
“We treat each other as a family. We lead our lives like any other heterosexual married couples living as a family; we share a home, finances, spend time together and with both of our extended families and friends.”
Outside court, Leung said: “We are asking for equal treatment, not special treatment.”
The International Commission of Jurists, a non-governmental organisation headquartered in Geneva, earlier filed a written submission to the court regarding protection for the right to enjoy family life as provided in the European Convention on Human Rights and discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
The hearing continues on Friday before Mr Justice Anderson Chow Ka-ming.