Court declares Hong Kong's public housing ban for married gay couples unlawful

2020-03-04 17:57
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Hong Kong's high court ruled on Wednesday that married same-sex couples should be allowed to apply for public housing, overturning a government ban which declared it unconstitutional.

The decision may still, however, be appealed by the country's housing authority. 

The court's decision has been seen as a step in the right direction by LGBTQ rights groups, who have in the past criticised Hong Kong for lagging on equality issues.

Hong Kong permanent resident Nick Infinger and his male partner - who married in Canada in 2018 - applied for public housing as an "ordinary family", but they were rejected by the city's housing authority.

The housing authority argued that in a husband-and-wife relationship, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, a husband refers to "a married man especially in relation to his wife". This matter made its way to the country's courts.

'Unable to justify'

Judge Anderson Chow ruled in favour of Infinger in a judicial review, and said the authority was "unable to justify" the difference in treatment between heterosexual and homosexual couples under its spousal policy, according to a court judgement.

The judgement also said a policy which excluded married same-sex couples from the eligibility of applying for public housing was "unlawful and unconstitutional".

The court granted an order to quash the authority's decision, and the public housing application has been returned to the authority for "fresh consideration".

Discrimination

"This judgment highlights yet another example of the discriminatory and unconstitutional government policies that LGBTI people in Hong Kong face every day," Infinger was quoted as saying on the Facebook page of his lawyer, Michael Vidler.

Hong Kong's first openly gay lawmaker, Ray Chan, said the ruling is another legal victory for the LGBTQ community.

In 2018, Hong Kong announced that overseas same-sex partners would qualify for the right to live and work in the city.

But there is still a long way to go for the financial hub to legalise same-sex marriage, as a valid marriage under Hong Kong law still requires a couple to be heterosexual.

"Progress was made, one step at a time," Chan said.

"Every judicial victory comes at a great cost in terms of legal fees, time, and stress for the plaintiff... It is time to allow same-sex couples to enter into legally recognised unions in Hong Kong," he added.

Brian Leung, chief campaigner for rights group Big Love Alliance, said: "Same-sex couples are also citizens and taxpayers, but their basic right to apply for public housing has long been suppressed and discriminated as the government chose to prioritise the right of heterosexual couples."

The high court on the same day dismissed a legal challenge filed by Filipino Reverend Marrz Balaoro, who wants prosecutors to ensure conducting religious marriage ceremonies for same-sex ceremonies would not be a criminal offence.

Balaoro, who is transgender, was arrested in 2018 on suspicion of breaking Hong Kong's marriage laws for officiating "Holy Union" ceremonies at the city's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Straight (LGBTS) Christian Church.

While LGBTQ groups have become more prominent in the semi-autonomous Chinese city, conservative activists - many of them evangelical Christians - have also launched anti-rights campaigns.

Hong Kong only decriminalised homosexuality in 1991.

Read more on:    hong kong  |  gay rights
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