Landmark Ruling: Court of Final Appeal sides with lesbian in spousal visa case

In a major win for the LGBT community, Hong Kong’s highest court today delivered a landmark ruling clearing the way for same-sex couples to obtain dependent visas for their partner.

In a widely anticipated judgement, the Final Court of Appeal sided with a British lesbian, referred to in court as QT, by dismissing an appeal by the Director of Immigration against a Court of Appeal decision in September, which had ruled in QT’s favor.

The Court of Appeal had held that the Immigration Department was wrong to deny QT a spousal dependent visa as her UK civil partnership was not recognized in Hong Kong.

Judges from the city’s top court agreed, saying there was no rational connection between the policy of only granting dependent visas to heterosexual spouses and the administration’s aim of attracting foreign talent and maintaining strict immigration controls.

“We do not accept that differential treatment requires no justification if based on marital status and if said to involve core rights and obligations unique to marriage,” read the ruling, which called the policy “counter-productive” to the department’s stated aims.

“The director has not justified the differential treatment in the present case.”

The case dates back to 2011, when QT was denied a dependent visa by immigration authorities after moving to Hong Kong with her partner, who had taken up a job in the city.

QT had initially lost a judicial review over the matter in March 2016. She went on to win an appeal in September, before the government challenged the ruling.

The case attracted public attention and support. Twelve multinational financial institutions had sought to join the legal challenge against the government’s policy on LGBT rights, though the court did not allow their request.

According to RTHK, a spokesperson for the Immigration Department said the government respected the verdict of the court, adding officials were carefully studying the judgement and would seek legal advice if necessary before deciding the way forward.

Reading a statement on behalf of QT outside the court, solicitor Michael Vidler said:”Today’s ruling affirms what millions of us in this wonderful and vibrant city know to be true, that discrimination based on sexual orientation, like any other form of discrimination, is offensive and demeaning,” RTHK reports.

He described it as a landmark case and hoped the Hong Kong government recognizes that “the time is right” to pave the way for same-sex unions.

He added: “We can only hope that apart from the courts, the government and the Legislative Council will recognise this is a reality now that Hong Kong lives in a greater world and every day that we don’t move forward in recognition of these rights of same-sex couples, we take a step back.”

The news was also welcomed by the city’s first openly gay lawmaker, Ray Chan, who called the judgement “a milestone in the history of LGBT equality in Hong Kong.”

Speaking to reporters at the city’s legislature today, he said the city’s LGBT community are “tired of being treated as second class citizens,” and echoed calls for the government to take the lead in instituting same-sex unions.

Amnesty International issued a statement urging the government to move ahead with further reforms to end discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

“No one should experience discrimination because of who they are, or who they love,” it read.

The verdict follows on the heels of a recent study showing more than 50 percent of Hongkongers support same-sex marriage.

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