Major win for same-sex couples as court recognizes right to spousal benefits

A rainbow flag is flown at a gay pride event in Hong Kong in 2015. Photo via Flickr.
A rainbow flag is flown at a gay pride event in Hong Kong in 2015. Photo via Flickr.

Hong Kong’s LGBT community marked another legal victory today after the city’s highest court ruled to grant spousal benefits and the right to file joint tax returns to a same-sex couple who were married in New Zealand.

Immigration officer Angus Leung had sued the the Civil Service Bureau (CSB) and the Inland Revenue Department for denying his husband the benefits civil servants’ spouses are entitled to, and for refusing to allow the couple to jointly file tax returns, respectively. Leung had succeeded in his challenge agains the CSB at the Court of First Instance, but that victory was later overturned on appeal.

Both the Court of First Instance and the Court of Appeal had rejected his challenge against the tax authority, but today’s ruling at the Court of Final Appeal overturned both that loss and the Appeal Court’s rejection of Leung’s claim against the CSB, HKFP reports.

In a unanimous decision, five judges endorsed the government’s aim of seeking to protect the institution of heterosexual marriage, as defined in Hong Kong’s Marriage Ordinance, but at the same time ruled that refusing to grant Leung and his husband, Scott Adams, the same benefits afforded straight couples did little to serve that aim.

“How is it said that allowing Mr Adams medical and dental benefits weakens the institution of marriage in Hong Kong?” the judges asked rhetorically in their ruling. “Similarly, how does permitting the appellant to elect for joint assessment of his income tax liability under [tax law] impinge on the institution of marriage in Hong Kong?”

“It cannot logically be argued that any person is encouraged to enter into an opposite-sex marriage in Hong Kong because a same-sex spouse is denied those benefits or to joint assessment to taxation.”

Though same-sex marriage is currently not allowed in Hong Kong, today’s judgement was the second to offer some form of recognition to same-sex marriages granted elsewhere. Last year, the Court of Final Appeal ruled in favor of a woman who had sued for the right to obtain a spousal visa for her wife.

Meanwhile, another case seeking the legal right to enter into same-sex civil partnerships was heard just last week.

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