Top Hong Kong court issues landmark ruling in favour of same-sex unions

The government now has two years to introduce new protections for same-sex couples, such as civil partnerships or unions.

Participant of Hong Kong Pride hold a large rainbow flag above their heads.
Image: Wikimedia Commons (doctorho)

A top court in Hong Kong has issued a ruling in favour of LGBTQ+ rights, ordering the region’s government to create a legal framework for same-sex partnerships. The decision from the Court of Final Appeal was drawn down on Tuesday, September 5, closing out a five-year case brought by Jimmy Sham, who wanted official recognition for his marriage to a man in New York in 2013.

While the five judges involved did not grant Sham’s appeal that he had a constitutional right to same-sex marriage in Hong Kong, they did deem that the government is in violation of its obligation to establish alternative legal protections for queer couples such as civil partnerships or unions.

“The absence of legal recognition of their relationship is apt to disrupt and demean their private lives together in ways that constitute arbitrary interference,” Justice Patrick Keane wrote. The court has given the government two years to comply with its obligation “in order to provide (same-sex couples) with a sense of legitimacy, dispelling any sense that they belong to an inferior class of persons whose relationship is undeserving of recognition”.

Currently, Hong Kong only recognises same-sex marriage for certain purposes such as taxation, civil service benefits and dependent visas. Although not granting full marriage rights, the ruling is still seen as a step forward and victory for the local queer community.


Speaking about the decision, Rainbow of Hong Kong Founder Kenneth Cheung said, “This can be seen as progress, as success in stages”.

“This doesn’t mean that we stop fighting for the equal rights we should have, but I believe after the laws are revised the public will see that gay couples just want to start a family and work and live in peace and happiness.”

Hong Kong resident Travis Chow, who has a same-sex partner, described the news as “absolutely happy and encouraging”. Similarly, gender studies scholar, Suen Yiu-tong, explained that while he was disappointed that the court did not recognise same-sex marriage, it was still an important step for LGBTQ+ equality in Asia.

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