(CTN NEWS) – In a landmark ruling that carries profound implications for Hong Kong’s LGBTQ+ community, the city’s highest court issued a verdict on Tuesday, compelling the government to establish a framework for acknowledging same-sex couples.
While the decision falls short of granting full marriage rights to same-sex couples, it marks a significant victory for Jimmy Sham, a prominent pro-democracy activist who waged a five-year legal battle to gain recognition for his same-sex marriage conducted abroad.
Sham and his husband wed in New York in 2013, contending that Hong Kong‘s existing regulations, which prohibit recognition of overseas same-sex marriages, infringed upon their fundamental right to equality.
Equality advocates hailed the verdict as a step forward, one that promises to substantially impact the lives of the LGBTQ+ community and bolster the city’s reputation as a welcoming place for residence and employment.
The judges of the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in a written statement that the government’s failure to provide a legal framework for recognizing same-sex partnerships, such as registered civil partnerships or civil unions, constituted a breach of its affirmative commitment.
Justice Patrick Keane stated, “The absence of legal recognition of their relationship is liable to disrupt and diminish their private lives together in ways that amount to arbitrary interference.”
Mixed Rulings on Same-Sex Marriage Recognition in Hong Kong Court Decision
However, the judges delivered a unanimous rejection of Sham’s final appeal on other aspects related to same-sex marriage and the recognition of same-sex partnerships.
In Hong Kong, same-sex marriage is presently acknowledged solely for taxation, civil service benefits, and dependent visas.
Over recent years, many concessions made by the government in this regard have resulted from legal battles, reflecting a growing societal acceptance of same-sex marriage within the city.
A report released in May, authored by scholars from The University of Hong Kong, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, and the University of North Carolina School of Law, revealed that surveys indicated 60% of respondents supported same-sex marriage in 2023, a significant increase from the 38% recorded in 2013.
Karon Monaghan, Sham’s lawyer, had previously argued that the absence of same-sex marriage recognition in Hong Kong created the impression that it was less deserving of recognition compared to heterosexual marriages.
Jerome Yau, co-founder of the non-governmental organization Hong Kong Marriage Equality, emphasized that the verdict clearly establishes the need for some form of recognition for same-sex partnerships, which would enhance Hong Kong’s reputation.
“We believe that this judgment will greatly contribute to attracting young talent to come and work and live in Hong Kong,” he stated.
Hong Kong’s LGBTQ+ Community Reacts to Court Decision, Mixed Emotions Prevail
Travis Chow, a Hong Kong resident in a same-sex relationship, shared that he had previously contemplated his and his partner’s future, but the recent court decision has now prompted him to seriously consider staying in Hong Kong for the long term.
“This is truly a cause for happiness and encouragement,” he expressed.
Gender studies researcher Suen Yiu-tong at Chinese University viewed the court’s verdict as a significant stride toward equality for Asia’s LGBTQ+ community. However, Suen also expressed disappointment that the court did not extend recognition to same-sex marriage.
Notably, Jimmy Sham, a key figure in the LGBTQ+ rights movement, has been detained under a national security measure introduced by Beijing following the major pro-democracy protests in 2019.
This law has been used to imprison and silence various pro-democracy activists as part of a broader crackdown on dissent in the former British colony.
Sham previously served as the convenor of the Civil Human Rights Front, an organization renowned for its annual protest march commemorating Hong Kong’s handover to Chinese administration on July 1, 1997.
The group also played a pivotal role in organizing some of the city’s largest political demonstrations in 2019, but it was disbanded in 2021 under the shadow of the security legislation.
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