The High Court has rejected a judicial review application by a British lesbian who challenged the Immigration Department’s refusal to recognise overseas same-sex marriages and grant her a dependent visa.

QT and SS entered into a civil partnership in Britain in 2011. SS was employed in Hong Kong, but when QT moved to the city in the same year, she was repeatedly denied a dependent visa by the Immigration Department.

high court
Photo: HKFP.

The court granted permission for a judicial review, but the application was ultimately rejected by Justice Thomas Au on Friday afternoon. The judge said that there was no discrimination by the Director of Immigration on grounds of sexual orientation, and that – if the director had decided differently – it would have, in fact, been unlawful because of the way marriage was defined under the Marriage Ordinance.

‘Disappointing’ ruling

Michael Vidler, the solicitor representing QT, said on Facebook that the applicant will be appealing the ruling. “This decision, whilst disappointing, is not altogether unexpected. Experience has shown us with previous LGBTI cases… that we often have to turn to the Court of Appeal or even the Court of Final Appeal for a correct judgment.”

“QT is a strong young woman who is determined to continue the fight to ensure that all people who have shown their love for one another by registering a civil partnership or marriage, are treated equally by the HK government, irrespective of their sexual orientation.”

Hong Kong immigration department building
Hong Kong Immigration Department building in Wan Chai. Photo: Wikicommons.

LGBT activist groups have also expressed disappointment at the ruling.

“The judgment continues the government policy which perpetuates the separation of overseas gay and lesbian couples who intend to come to work in Hong Kong,” said Billy Leung, Vice-chair of the Pink Alliance. “It sends a message to gay and lesbian couples that if you’re gay, you’re not welcome. And this is not the message we want to be giving when you want to attract the brightest talents to Hong Kong.”

billy leung
Billy Leung. Photo: Billy Leung.

Denial of spousal benefits

In a similar case, another same-sex couple are also awaiting a decision as to whether their judicial review will be accepted.

Leung Chun-kwong, an immigration officer, married his partner in New Zealand. Both are Hong Kong residents, but were denied spousal benefits with the Civil Service Bureau and joint tax assessment from the Inland Revenue Department. Leung was turned down on the grounds that his marriage did not meet the criterion under the Marriage Ordinance. He filed for permission to launch a judicial review on December 24 last year.

Tanner De Witt, the law firm representing Leung in his claim, told HKFP following the ruling on Friday: “We hope that the government will follow its policies and apply the law in a way that is consistent with the Basic Law, the Bill of Rights Ordinance, the Inland Revenue Ordinance and Sex Discrimination Ordinance.”

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.