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Hong Kong Appeals Court Says Housing Authority Can’t Discriminate Against Some Same-Sex Couples

Hong Kong Appeals Court Says Housing Authority Can’t Discriminate Against Some Same-Sex Couples

Gay couple in Hong Kong
Phuong D. Nguyen/Shutterstock

The ruling came too late for one of the plaintiffs, whose husband continued the battle when he died by suicide before the courts could rule in their favor.

An appeals court in Hong Kong upheld a lower court ruling that the government unfairly discriminated against same-sex couples seeking to rent or own properties managed by the Public Housing Authority.

One case involved a Hong Kong couple married in Canada, and the second was a widower who carried on the case in part for his late husband who died by suicide during the ordeal of the four-year legal battle.

Hong Kong's Public Housing Authority (PHO) policy restricts residential use of its subsidized units to the owner or renter and members of their families. The PHO also refuses to recognize marriages or civil unions between same-sex couples granted outside the country. Two separate cases challenged the policy in the Court of First Instance, which ruled in their favor. Tuesday’s ruling in the Court of Appeals upheld the lower court rulings in those cases.

Hong Kong resident Nick Infinger and his husband sued in 2018 after their application to rent public housing was denied because the PHO did not recognize their Canadian wedding, the Hong Kong Free Press reported in 2020.

Likewise, Edgar Ng and his husband, Henry Li, filed suit in 2019 after they were told they could not participate in a subsidized homeownership program known as a Home Ownership Scheme (HOS) because their British marriage was also not recognized by the PHO.

The case of Ng and Li is particularly poignant. The pair became romantically involved in 2012 and married five years later in London in 2017. According to a statement from Li and his attorney, Mark Daly of Daly & Associates, anonymous letters complaining about the couple were sent to the PHO shortly after they started living together. Seeking to avoid the abuse and live peacefully together as a married couple, Ng used the HOS to purchase a home for the couple, only to be told a month later they did not qualify under the policy.

Sadly, the stress of the battles in court and with the PHO took its toll, and Ng died by suicide in December 2020. He did not live long enough to see the first court victory. Li continued the lawsuit, as well as filing an additional suit when the government would not allow him traditional post-death spousal rights, according to the Free Press. He dropped that lawsuit in 2021 after the government agreed to his demands.

“What Edgar and I wanted was simply to be able to live together in our own home lawfully,” Li said in a statement today. “This is a humble wish shared by many couples in Hong Kong. Sadly for us, it has been cruelly denied by the Housing Authority on the basis of sexual orientation. While I am grateful for today’s judgment, it also reminds me painfully that Edgar is no longer here to see this. We could no longer live together for which Edgar had fought so hard. It has been more than four years since this court case started. I sincerely hope that upon thoughtful consideration, the Housing Authority would not appeal and let this matter rest, and at last let Edgar rest in peace.”

“Discrimination not only inflicts oppressive legal and financial injustices on LGBT+ people, but also causes them irreversible emotional damage,” Daly said in a statement. “We strongly urge the government and other public authorities to take timely, proactive actions to respect fundamental human rights, including the right to freedom from discrimination on the ground[s] of sexual orientation.”

Last month, Hong Kong’s highest court, the Court of Final Appeal, dismissed an appeal from activist Jimmy Sham, who argued that he has a constitutional right to recognition of his marriage to another man.

The court ruled refused to recognize marriage equality but did find there is a need “for access to an alternative legal framework in order to meet basic social requirements” such as hospital and inheritance rights.

If you are having thoughts of suicide or are concerned that someone you know may be, resources are available to help. The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 is for people of all ages and identities. Trans Lifeline, designed for transgender or gender-nonconforming people, can be reached at (877) 565-8860. The lifeline also provides resources to help with other crises, such as domestic violence situations. The Trevor Project Lifeline, for LGBTQ+ youth (ages 24 and younger), can be reached at (866) 488-7386. Users can also access chat services at TheTrevorProject.org/Help or text START to 678678.

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