A court in Hong Kong has declined to establish marriage equality but recommended that the government make a “comprehensive review” of laws that might lead to court actions over anti-LGBTQ discrimination.
There is no right to same-sex marriage under existing laws, and it would be “beyond the proper scope of the functions and powers of the court to change a social policy on a fundamental issue,” Justice Anderson Chow Ka-ming of the Court of First Instance wrote in a ruling issued Friday, the South China Morning Post reports.
The ruling came in a lawsuit by a woman, identified only as MK, who said that being prevented from marrying her female partner or at least entering into a civil union violated the city’s Basic Law, which is considered a “mini-constitution,” and its Bill of Rights, according to the Post. Hong Kong is part of China, but it retains legal autonomy in some matters.
Justice Chow, however, said the Basic Law cannot be interpreted as allowing same-sex marriage. “While the word ‘marriage’ may now be understood in some parts of the world as being applicable to same-sex couples, it is, I consider, how the word is, and has always been, understood in Hong Kong ... for the purpose of interpretation of the Basic Law,” he wrote.
The ruling was a setback to the LGBTQ rights movement in Asia. Taiwan this year became the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage.
“MK’s decision to challenge this discrimination in court was an opportunity for Hong Kong to break away from the injustices of the past and start shaping a more fair and equal society,” Man-kei Tam, director of Amnesty International Hong Kong, said in a prepared statement, The New York Times reports. “Sadly, the discriminatory treatment of same-sex couples will continue for the time being.” The ruling comes as pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong are protesting against the increasing authoritarianism of the Chinese government.
Through court actions, Hong Kong has recognized same-sex marriages performed in other countries for a few limited purposes, such as the granting of spousal visas and the right to file a joint tax return. But in the case involving tax returns, a court “explicitly said that the decision was unrelated to the question of whether same-sex couples had the right to marry in Hong Kong,” the Times reports.
Some activists were encouraged that Chow at least called for a review of discriminatory laws. Advocacy group Hong Kong Marriage Equality said the government has a duty to change the laws, in any case.