Hong Kong’s Supreme Court Backs Same-Sex Relationships

Hong Kong’s supreme court decided on Tuesday to support same-sex relationships including civil unions. However, it refrained from permitting full marriage rights, signifying a partial triumph for the region’s LGBTQ community.

In the last ten years, LGBTQ advocates in what was once a British colony have achieved incremental successes in the courtroom, successfully challenging prejudiced governmental policies concerning visas, taxes, and housing benefits.

However, the lawsuit initiated by imprisoned pro-democracy champion Jimmy Sham marks the inaugural occasion where the Court of Final Appeal has explicitly tackled the matter of same-sex marriage.

In its verdict, the court asserted that the Hong Kong government “is in violation of its positive obligation … to establish an alternative framework for legal recognition of same-sex partnerships”, incorporating options like civil unions.

However, it refrained from rendering a judgement concerning complete marriage parity for same-sex couples.

The court “unanimously dismisses the appeal in relation” to same-sex marital recognitions and acknowledgment of international same-sex marriages, as documented in its ruling.

Although LGBTQ activism encounters political hurdles in mainland China, the semi-independent region of Hong Kong has witnessed a growing support for same-sex marriage amongst its residents.

A survey conducted this year indicated that 60% of participants backed same-sex marriage, a significant increase from 38% a mere ten years earlier.

The legal battle initiated by Sham, aged 36, met with failure on two separate occasions in persuading the courts to grant legal recognition to his marriage with a same-sex partner, a union that was formalized in New York almost ten years ago.

In August of the previous year, appeal judges stated that the constitution of Hong Kong “only provides access to the institution of marriage to heterosexual couples”.

Sham contended that the metropolis’s prohibition on same-sex marriage infringed on his entitlement to equality, and the absence of an alternative solution — like civil unions — mirrors this infringement, coupled with violating his right to personal privacy.

British human rights attorney Karon Monaghan, who represented Sham, conveyed to the court in June that the prohibition adversely affects same-sex partnerships in sectors such as inheritance and residential leases.

Sham, a noted advocate for democracy, stands as one among numerous activists incarcerated and awaiting trial under the security legislation, for accusations not connected to LGBTQ rights.

A Long Journey

Gender studies expert Suen Yiu-tung noted that while Hong Kong abolished the criminalization of sexual relations between adult males in 1991, it still offers “no protection against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity”.

Local courts have nullified prejudiced policies “domain-by-domain”, however, this method has translated to a “really, really long journey”, Suen communicated to AFP.

The case on Tuesday was distinct as it petitioned for a more encompassing “wholesale” acceptance of same-sex marriage, but this also implied that triumph “might be more difficult”, he elaborated.

In Asia, only Nepal and Taiwan recognized same-sex marriages, whereas in South Korea, legislators have recently introduced a bill that would recognize same-sex relationships.

Various international corporations in Hong Kong have voiced support for marriage equality, labeling it a strategy to attract talent.

However, the territory’s Beijing-approved leadership has shown scant interest in enacting legislation that promotes LGBTQ equality.