The highest court of Hong Kong ruled on Tuesday that the government must provide a framework for the recognition of same-sex couples, in a decision historical for the community LGBTQ+ in the city.
The ruling did not grant full marriage rights to same-sex couples, but it was a partial victory for prominent pro-democracy activist Jimmy Sham, who had waged a five-year legal battle over the recognition of same-sex marriages registered abroad.
Sham married her husband in New York in 2013.and argued that Hong Kong’s laws, which do not recognize foreign same-sex marriages, violate the constitutional right to equality.
Equality advocates said the ruling was a step forward and would have major repercussions for the life of the LGBTQ+ community and the financial center’s reputation as an inclusive place to live and work.
The judges of the highest court, by majoritydeclared in a written sentence that the government breaches its positive obligation to establish a alternative framework for legal recognition of same-sex couples, such as registered civil unions or civil unions.
“The absence of legal recognition of their relationship may disturb and degrade their private life together in a way that constitutes a arbitrary interferencewrote Judge Patrick Keane.
The court suspended his declaration for two years to give the government time to fulfill its obligation.
But the judges unanimously dismissed Sham’s final appeal on other grounds related to same-sex marriage and the recognition of gay unions abroad.
Currently, Hong Kong only recognizes same-sex marriage for certain purposes, such as taxation, civil service benefits, and dependent visas. Many of the government’s concessions have been won through legal action in recent years, and the city has experienced a growing social acceptance of same-sex marriage.
According to a report published in May by researchers from the University of Hong Kong, the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the University of North Carolina School of Law, polls showed that 60% of respondents supported marriage between people of the same age. same sex in 2023, compared to 38% in 2013.
In an earlier hearing, Sham’s lawyer, Karon Monaghan, had argued that the absence of same-sex marriage in Hong Kong sent the message that it is less worthy of recognition than heterosexual marriages.
Jerome Yau, co-founder of the non-governmental organization Hong Kong Marriage Equality, said the ruling sent a clear signal that same-sex relationships deserve some form of recognition and would help improve Hong Kong’s reputation.
“We believe this ruling will go a long way in attracting young talents who come to Hong Kong to work and live.“, he claimed.
Travis Chow, a Hong Kong resident and same-sex couple, said he had wondered about his future, but the sentence had made him seriously consider staying in Hong Kong for the long term.
“This is absolutely happy and encouraging“, he claimed.
The court decision was an important step for equality for the LGBTQ+ community in Asia, said gender studies scholar Suen Yiu-tong of China University. But Suen admitted that he was disappointed that the court did not recognize same-sex marriage.
Sham has been detained after being charged under a national security law imposed by Beijing following massive pro-democracy protests in 2019. The law has been used to detain and silence many other pro-democracy activists as part of the crackdown on dissent in the former British colony.
Sham is the former coordinator of the Civil Human Rights Front, best known for years organizing the annual protest march on the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to Chinese rule on July 1, 1997.
The group also organized some of the biggest political protests to rock the city in 2019, but disbanded in 2021 under the shadow of the security law.
(With information from AP)