‘Not all differences unlawful’ gov’t lawyer argues in same-sex civil partnership case

Hong Kong’s High Court, which houses the Court of First Instance. Photo via Google Maps.
Hong Kong’s High Court, which houses the Court of First Instance. Photo via Google Maps.

Hong Kong’s government defended the city’s ban on same-sex unions today as a court hears a landmark legal challenge seeking civil partnership rights for same-sex couples.

A Hong Kong woman, known only as MK, is suing the government for denying her the right to enter into a civil partnership with her female partner, arguing the ban is unconstitutional and infringes upon her right to equality before the law. The case is currently being heard by the Court of First Instance.

Defending the current ban, government lawyer Stewart Wong told the court today that marriage would be “diluted and diminished” and “no longer special” if that right was granted to same-sex couples.

“Not all differences in treatment are unlawful. You are not supposed to treat unequal cases alike,” Wong said, adding that Hong Kong’s definition of marriage was already defined by law and “cannot be trumped.”

He also argued against same-sex civil unions.

“To recognize an alternative form of same-sex relationships which we say is tantamount to a [marriage] is to undermine the traditional institution of marriage and the family constituted by such a marriage,” Wong said.

Despite growing public support for gay marriage in the international financial hub, campaigners have made little headway against staunch opposition from the city’s successive pro-Beijing governments and religious conservatives.

The Hong Kong government’s view stands in stark contrast to nearby Taiwan, where lawmakers made history approving Asia’s first gay marriage law earlier this month, despite a conservative backlash. In a recent radio interview, even the head of Hong Kong’s equality watchdog said it was “impractical” and a “waste of resources” to push for marriage equality, Hong Kong Free Press reported.

But on Tuesday, MK’s lawyer, Gladys Li, argued that it is “now or never” for Hong Kong’s LGBT couples to secure civil partnership and marriage rights.

Li likened marriage to a “private members’ club” when limited only to heterosexual couples.

Hong Kong does not recognize same-sex marriage or civil unions, and only decriminalized homosexuality in 1991.

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