Hong Kong court rules in favour of same-sex relationships; falls short of granting marriage rights

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HONG KONG: In a partial victory for the LGBTQ activists, Hong Kong’s top court on Tuesday ruled in favour of same-sex couples asking the government to create ‘legal recognition’ for them, CNN reported.

However, the court fell short of granting the rights for full marriage equality as was being demanded by the activists.

The activists had been hoping the court would declare that the denial of same-sex marriage breached equal rights protections in the city’s mini-constitution.

Five judges from Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal handed down their decision on Tuesday, following years of legal battles challenging the government’s refusal to let gay people get married or form a civil union partnership, CNN reported.

Notably, Hong Kong does not allow or grant same-sex marriage or unions, even though homosexuality has been decriminalized in the city since 1991.

Judges ruled the freedom to marry was guaranteed under the mini-constitution but that it only referred “to heterosexual marriage.”

Instead, the judges ruled in a majority verdict that there was a need for “an alternative framework” granting legal recognition to same-sex couples “to provide them with a sense of legitimacy, dispelling any sense that they belong to an inferior class of persons whose relationship is undeserving of recognition”, CNN reported.

The government has two years to comply with the ruling, the court said.

Notably, the activists in Hong Kong have used the courts as their main avenue to drive changes over the past decade, with both the government and legislature being seen as sluggish in catching up with other more liberal jurisdictions.

Also, Hong Kong’s judges have often sided with the activists, previously ruling against government lawyers and stating that the city’s mini-constitution affords same-sex couples certain protections and equality that they were being denied.
As per CNN, the polls in Hong Kong have shown growing support for same-sex equality among the public, especially younger people.

However, the city’s government has long leaned conservative, mirroring official opposition to same-sex marriage and greater equality on the Chinese mainland.

Meanwhile, the case that resulted in Tuesday’s final ruling was brought by now-detained pro-democracy activist Jimmy Sham Tsz-kit in 2019.

Sham, in his early 30s, organized rallies that drew in hundreds of thousands of people as the convenor of the Civil Human Rights Front during a wave of anti-government protests in 2019.

The group was disbanded in 2021, a year after Beijing imposed a national security law that critics said stifled dissent and shattered the democracy movement. Both Hong Kong and mainland Chinese authorities have maintained the law was necessary to safeguard national security and “restore stability”, CNN reported.

Sham, who has been remanded in custody for more than two years on a charge of subversion, is among dozens of prominent democracy campaigners accused of taking part in an unofficial primary election held by the opposition in 2020. Prosecutors have framed the vote as part of a wider move to overthrow the government at the time.

Court papers said Sham began a stable relationship with his partner in 2011 and two years later, got married in New York.

Sham argued that the Hong Kong government’s failure to let him and other gay and lesbian couples get married or enter some forms of civil union partnership had “infringed upon their rights to equality and privacy”.

On the other hand, in mainland China, Beijing has widened crackdowns on LGBTQ activists and groups in recent years, with Chinese leader Xi Jinping increasingly stressing the ruling Communist Party’s absolute control over every aspect of society, CNN reported.

China’s biggest and longest-running LGBTQ festival, Shanghai Pride, was cancelled in 2020, with dozens of accounts related to sexual minorities censored on Chinese social media. (ANI)

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