Hong Kong’s highest court has issued a landmark ruling directing the government to establish a legal framework recognizing the rights of same-sex couples, marking a partial victory for LGBTQ activists. However, the ruling falls short of granting full marriage equality, which the activists had sought. The decision follows years of legal battles challenging the government’s refusal to permit same-sex marriages or civil union partnerships, despite the decriminalization of homosexuality in the city since 1991. While the judges acknowledged that the freedom to marry was guaranteed under Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, they specified that it referred only to heterosexual marriage. Consequently, the court called for the creation of “an alternative framework” that would grant legal recognition to same-sex couples, providing them with a sense of legitimacy and dispelling any notion of inferiority in their relationships. The government has been given a two-year window to comply with this ruling.
The ruling is expected to have significant implications for Hong Kong’s LGBTQ community and the numerous foreign nationals residing and working in the city. However, the specific legislative steps that the local government will take to align with the court’s decision remain to be seen. Despite not achieving full marriage equality, activists and proponents of LGBTQ rights view the ruling as a major step forward in the fight for equal recognition and protection of same-sex relationships in Hong Kong.
This development underscores the ongoing struggle for LGBTQ rights in Asia, where conservative values continue to hold sway, particularly among political elites. Presently, only Taiwan and Nepal permit same-sex unions in the region, while India’s Supreme Court is currently deliberating the issue of same-sex marriage. Hong Kong’s government, mirroring the official stance on the Chinese mainland, has long resisted measures promoting same-sex marriage and greater LGBTQ equality, despite the city’s aspirations to be a global financial hub attracting top talent and businesses that advocate for LGBTQ rights.