The highest court in Hong Kong has ruled that the city’s government must establish a fresh legal framework to acknowledge the rights of same-sex couples. This represents a limited triumph for LGBTQ+ activists, falling short of their complete request for full marriage equality.
On Tuesday, a panel of five judges at Hong Kong‘s Court of Final Appeal issued this judgment, concluding a lengthy series of legal disputes that had contested the government’s prohibition on marriage or civil union partnerships for gay individuals. Despite the decriminalization of homosexuality in the city since 1991, Hong Kong currently does not permit or recognize same-sex marriages or unions.
Activists had anticipated that the court would affirm that the refusal of same-sex marriage violated the equal rights safeguards outlined in the city’s mini-constitution.
However, the judges determined that the mini-constitution did indeed guarantee the right to marry, but it specifically applied to “heterosexual marriage.”
In a majority decision, the judges instead concluded that there was a requirement for the creation of “an alternative framework” that would legally acknowledge same-sex couples. This framework is intended “to provide them with a sense of legitimacy, dispelling any notion that they belong to a lower status of individuals whose relationships are not deserving of recognition.”
The court stipulated that the government must comply with this ruling within a two-year timeframe.
The individual who brought forth the lawsuit was Jimmy Sham, a pro-democracy advocate who has been advocating for the recognition of same-sex marriages that were legally registered in other countries for five years. Court records indicated that Sham, who identifies as gay, married his partner in New York in 2013.
Jerome Yau, co-founder of Hong Kong Marriage Equality, said he is “cautiously optimistic” as details are still being sorted and shared.
“It’s a major step forward and landmark decision. I understand it’s not full marriage equality but all things considered, it’s a good decision,” he said.