Illegal prohibition of public housing in married gay couples in Hong Kong: Court

HONG KONG: The high court in Hong Kong ruled on Wednesday that married couples of the same sex should be allowed to apply for public housing after it is determined that the government ban is unconstitutional.

It is a step forward for LGBTQ rights in Hong Kong, which has been criticized by activists for delaying equality issues.

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

The body 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.

However, Chow ruled in favor of Infinger in a judicial review and said the authority was unable to justify the difference in treatment between heterosexual and homosexual couples under his spouse policy, according to a court ruling.

The ruling also said that a policy that excludes same-sex married couples from eligibility to apply for public housing is illegal and unconstitutional.

The court granted an order to annul the authority's decision and the public housing application has been referred to the authority for further consideration.

However, the authority could still appeal the court decision.

Hong Kong's first open legislator, Ray Chan, said the ruling is another legal victory for the LGBTQ community.

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

But there is still a long way to go for the financial center to legalize same-sex marriage, since a marriage valid under Hong Kong law would still require a couple to be heterosexual.

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

Each judicial victory has a great cost in terms of legal fees, time and stress for the plaintiff ... It is time to allow same-sex couples to enter legally recognized unions in Hong Kong, he added.

Brian Leung, campaign manager of the Big Love Alliance rights group, said: Same-sex couples are also citizens and taxpayers, but their basic right to request public housing has been suppressed and discriminated against for a long time since the government chose to prioritize the right of heterosexual couples.

The same court dismissed the same day a legal challenge filed by the Philippine Reverend Marrz Balaoro, who wants prosecutors to ensure that the performance of religious marriage ceremonies for same-sex ceremonies is not a criminal offense.

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

Hong Kong only decriminalized homosexuality in 1991.

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.