LGBTQ advocates have called on lawmakers to support a government bill that would ultimately give same-sex couples fewer rights to claim the ashes of their loved ones.

“We reluctantly urge all lawmakers to support the government’s amended bill,” concern group Out and Vote said on Thursday.

private columbaria
A columbarium. File

The call came on the same day the legislature held a second reading of a new law proposed by the government on the licensing of private columbaria. In the original version of the bill, only the relatives of the deceased, “authorised persons” and interment right holders were entitled to claiming the relevant ashes.

More than 30 LGBTQ concern groups asked the government last December to amend the bill to give same-sex couples the equal right to claim the ashes of their spouses.

In response, the government revised the bill to include “related persons,” defined as someone who was living with the deceased in the same household for at least two years. However, the right to claim ashes is not equal: the relatives of the deceased are given priority over the “related persons.”

‘Serious controversy’

Labour Party lawmaker Fernando Cheung asked the government to extend the definition so that same-sex partners in a marriage, civil partnership or civil union in overseas jurisdictions would also be considered the “relatives” of the deceased.

But the government rejected the suggestion on the basis that the changes would “arouse serious controversy in society and the bill is not a suitable forum to tackle the controversy.”

Gay rights LGBTQ hong kong
Photo: HKFP.

‘Respect for the deceased’

People Power lawmaker Ray Chan disagreed with the government’s response.

“This is a humble request from same-sex couples,” he said at Thursday’s meeting. “We just want to ensure that the rights of the deceased and their ‘related persons’ are respected. We are not trying to change your so-called family values or pushing for same-sex marriage.”

Chan and lawmakers Fernando Cheung, Nathan Law and “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung will be tabling amendments to the bill that would ensure different degrees of protection for the rights of same-sex couples.

Out and Vote urged other lawmakers to support these amendments. For now, it said, “the latest version of the bill does provide the minimum level of protection for the rights of same-sex couples.”

“If the bill is vetoed without a sound basis, same-sex couples will be left with no protection at all,” the group said.

hong kong gay lgbt
A LGBTQ rally in Hong Kong. Photo: HKFP.

The operation of private columbaria has been a controversial issue over the years. Critics say that many operators disregard public hygiene and environmental wellbeing. They also criticise law enforcement agents for failing to take action against these operators.

According to the government, there are 153 private columbaria operating in the city. However, only 30 of them meet the legal requirements such as rules related to land use. The remaining 123 – or around 80 per cent – are in violation of the law, such as illegally occupying government land and breaching the terms of their land leases.

Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.