Hong Kong promis­ing can­di­date for same-sex mar­riage re­form

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT - David Ogilvie The au­thor is a writer and com­men­ta­tor on Hong Kong lo­cal af­fairs and con­sul­tant to banks on money laun­der­ing.

Two months ago Tai­wan be­came the very first place in Asia to le­gal­ize same-sex mar­riages, join­ing a list of more than 20 ju­ris­dic­tions world­wide which have moved to per­mit the prac­tice over the past 16 years. Where might be next in the re­gion? If I could put my money on it, I would say Hong Kong looks like a rea­son­able as­sump­tion. There are of course a di­verse num­ber of rea­sons why same-sex mar­riage leg­is­la­tion is or is not passed suc­cess­fully in a par­tic­u­lar coun­try or re­gion but es­sen­tially it comes down to three pri­mary is­sues of con­cern.

In no spe­cific or­der these are, firstly, re­li­gious tol­er­ance to­ward the is­sue. There are only a small num­ber of anti­gay re­li­gious ac­tivists here in Hong Kong, although they do ap­pear to have a rel­a­tively vo­cal plat­form that be­lies their size. Choi Chi-sum, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of the con­ser­va­tive Chris­tian group So­ci­ety for Truth and Light, for ex­am­ple, has been given an in­creas­ingly prom­i­nent stage to present his views fol­low­ing Tai­wan’s leg­isla­tive change. His opin­ions on same-sex mar­riage, sex­ual mi­nor­ity anti-dis­crim­i­na­tory laws and even the re­cent “con­tro­versy” over a ho­mo­sex­ual char­ac­ter in Dis­ney’s Beauty and the Beast are well known. It is also the case that a sur­pris­ingly large num­ber of politi­cians in Hong Kong pro­fess to be de­vout Chris­tians, although this does not of course au­to­mat­i­cally de­note anti-gay or even anti-same-sex mar­riage sen­ti­ment.

The sec­ond is­sue is the level of civic free­dom Hong Kong en­joys. Ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity was de­crim­i­nal­ized here in 1991 and, while anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion laws are only ap­plied to gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees, many cor­po­ra­tions have worked in­de­pen­dently to adopt their own codes on this is­sue. Nev­er­the­less, one could ar­gue that LGBT rights have taken a few steps back­wards in re­cent years, such as when the rel­e­vant author­ity ap­pealed a High Court de­ci­sion in April grant­ing wel­fare ben­e­fits to the spouse of a gay civil ser­vant. More­over, the gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion to not al­low same-sex cou­ples to wed at the Bri­tish con­sulate af­ter the coun­try le­gal­ized same-sex mar­riage in 2014 upset many gay-rights ac­tivists, par­tic­u­larly since sev­eral coun­tries that have of­ten been crit­i­cized for their gay-rights record, such as Rus­sia and Azer­bai­jan, had given their con­sent to the prac­tice.

So while these two is­sues of­fer a mixed bag for those ad­vo­cat­ing a more lib­eral ap­proach to same-sex mar­riage lo­cally, they are per­haps both trumped by the third and most im­por­tant is­sue, which is the de­gree of ac­cep­tance that a pop­u­la­tion has to­ward sex­ual mi­nori­ties. Hong Kong does pretty well in this re­gard with, for ex­am­ple, a 2013 sur­vey con­ducted by the Pub­lic Opinion Pro­gramme at the Uni­ver­sity of Hong Kong find­ing 66 per­cent of re­spon­dents be­lieved the gov­ern­ment should en­act a sex­ual-ori­en­ta­tion an­tidis­crim­i­na­tion law, while 33 per­cent sup­ported the le­gal­iza­tion of same-sex mar­riage or reg­is­tered part­ner­ship out­right. Given that ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity no longer re­mains a taboo sub­ject among the youth of Hong Kong, this num­ber is likely to mul­ti­ply; in­deed, a more re­cent city­wide rep­re­sen­ta­tive sur­vey by the Equal Rights Com­mis­sion early last year found 92 per­cent of 18-to-24 year olds in Hong Kong were in fa­vor of fur­ther anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion leg­is­la­tion for sex­ual mi­nori­ties, a trend seen to be aligned to a grow­ing global con­scious­ness on the is­sue. It more­over seems that Hong Kong peo­ple are in­creas­ingly un­likely to be swayed by the tra­di­tion­al­ist views of lo­cal re­li­gious au­thor­i­ties any­time soon, given the re­sults of a WIN/Gallup In­ter­na­tional poll in 2015 that found that Hong Kong was rated sec­ond-low­est in the world in terms of re­li­gious be­lief – be­hind only the Chi­nese main­land – with 34 per­cent claim­ing they do not be­lieve in a de­ity.

It seems the pow­ers that be in Hong Kong will, there­fore, face in­creas­ing pres­sure on this is­sue. Strength­ened anti-dis­crim­i­na­tory laws are in­evitable, ei­ther through the gov­ern­ment’s own ini­tia­tive to bring Hong Kong more in line with global norms, or through forced change brought by civil ac­tion groups via the ju­di­cial sys­tem. The is­sue of same-sex mar­riage will doubt­less fol­low shortly be­hind and will need to be re­solved in good time. The man­ner in which the gov­ern­ment set­tles this mat­ter dove­tails nicely with our claim to be Asia’s World City, with a tol­er­ant cit­i­zenry be­fit­ting an East-West melt­ing pot. This can only but en­hance our rep­u­ta­tion and make our city an even more invit­ing place to visit and work.

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