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Hong Kong Court Rejects Marriage Equality, Orders 'Alternative' Recognition for Queer Couples

Hong Kong Court Rejects Marriage Equality, Orders 'Alternative' Recognition for Queer Couples

Marriage ceremony with bouquet

The ruling from the city's highest court falls short of equality but represents progress, activists say.

Hong Kong’s highest court has again declined to rule for marriage equality, but it has ordered the city to establish some form of legal recognition for same-sex couples.

The Court of Final Appeal Tuesday dismissed an appeal from LGBTQ+ and democracy activist Jimmy Sham, who argued that he has a constitutional right to recognition of his marriage to another man. But it “effectively gave the government two years to ensure that rights, such as access to hospitals and inheritance, could be protected for same-sex couples,” Reuters reports.

The justices wrote that there is a need “for access to an alternative legal framework in order to meet basic social requirements,” as quoted by Reuters. Justice Patrick Keane added, “The absence of legal recognition of [a same-sex couple’s] relationship is apt to disrupt and demean their private lives together in ways that constitute arbitrary interference,” according to the BBC.

Hong Kong, a former British colony, is part of China but is self-governing in areas other than defense and foreign policy. It has a “mini-constitution” known as the Basic Law.

Sham married his partner in New York in 2013. He has gone to court in Hong Kong seeking recognition of his marriage but has been rejected twice. He has been jailed since 2021 for his pro-democracy activities, unrelated to his marriage case.

In 2019, a lower Hong Kong court ruled against marriage equality in a case brought by a woman identified only as MK, who said lack of access to marriage violated her constitutional rights. The Court of First Instance disagreed but recommended that the government establish a framework for recognition of same-sex relationships.

LGBTQ+ activists called the Court of Final Appeal’s decision encouraging. “This judgment, we believe, will go a long way in attracting young talent coming to Hong Kong to work and live,” Hong Kong Marriage Equality cofounder Jerome Yau told the Associated Press.

Esther Leung, campaign manager for the group, told Reuters that it was a “major step forward” but “falls short of what is really at stake in this case: full inclusion in marriage.” Still, “it is a significant victory which makes clear that Hong Kong law must afford due respect and protections to same-sex couples,” she added. “This will help families while hurting no one.”

A poll this year found that 60 percent of Hong Kong residents supported marriage equality, up from 38 percent 10 years ago, the BBC reports. The city will host the Gay Games in November, marking the first time the event has been held in Asia.

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