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Hong Kong: 'Huge step forward' for same-sex equality thanks to court ruling

In response to a Hong Kong’s court ruling today that the government’s refusal to grant same-sex couples access to spousal employment benefits is unlawful, Man-kei Tam, Director of Amnesty International Hong Kong, said:

“Today’s unanimous judgment is a huge step forward for equality in Hong Kong.

“This extensive victory brings Hong Kong more in line with its international obligation to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of people with different sexual orientations.

“The Court of Final Appeal yet again confirmed that the blanket denial of partnership rights for same-sex couples is discriminatory. This is despite the fact that same-sex marriages or civil partnerships are not yet recognised in Hong Kong.

“While today’s judgment is very positive for the protection of LGBTI rights in Hong Kong, it is outrageous that LGBTI people in Hong Kong continue to have to go to court in order to force the authorities to treat their relationships as equal. It is time the Hong Kong government take the initiative and show leadership.

“No-one should experience discrimination because of who they are or who they love.”

Legal battle

In 2017, senior immigration officer Angus Leung Chun-kwong initiated a judicial review against the Civil Service Bureau because his husband, whom he had married overseas, could not enjoy spousal benefits normally afforded to civil servants in Hong Kong. The government filed an appeal after Leung partially won the case at the Court of First Instance.

The Court of Appeal overturned the judgment in June 2018, largely based on the argument that the “traditional concept of marriage” as understood in Hong Kong warranted special protection. Following a hearing on 7 May after Leung appealed the Court of Appeal’s decision, the appeals court handed down the final judgment today.

Visa denial

On 4 July last year, the Court of Final Appeal ruled in the ‘QT’ case that it was discriminatory for the government to deny a dependant visa to a woman in a same-sex civil partnership, despite the fact that same-sex marriages or civil partnerships are not yet recognized in Hong Kong. The court also rejected the premise that a concept of “core rights and obligations unique to marriage” could serve as a wholesale justification for differential treatment.

Under international human rights law and standards, discrimination against people because of their sexual orientation is prohibited, and each instance of differential treatment needs to be demonstrably and specifically justified with objective and particularly serious reasons rationally connected to and necessary for a legitimate aim.

Amnesty believes that same-sex relationships need to be recognised equally - and on the same basis and with the same rights - as those of opposite-sex couples.

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