I wish everyone in Hong Kong would take a step back and ask themselves: “Are we free?”

Sure, we have many freedoms living in Hong Kong. We have freedoms they don’t have in Mainland China. We even have freedoms people don’t have in some Western countries.

But do those freedoms define what freedom really is?

Umbrellas vs riot shields at the Occupy protests. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

You see, to me, freedom really means that we are not beholden to the rules and whims of another party if we don’t agree with them.

When we reach adulthood, we earn the right to be free from our parents. If we accept that freedom, it means we can marry whomever we want. We can eat dessert before dinner if we like. We can chase that dream of becoming a musician or a painter.

Likewise, within any society, we are only free if we can do the things that we think are right, despite what our government leaders tell us to do. Yes there is a process where the majority decides, with our approval of the system, what is both good for the majority and protects the rights of minority parties.

This is still freedom as long as the majority have approved the system, and as long as there are ways for the majority to change the system.

That’s how it should work in a well-functioning democracy, where the people choose their leaders, without restriction, and the leaders represent the people, with accountability for their actions.

Carrie Lam after winning the 2017 chief executive election. Photo: HKFP/Ellie Ng.

Hong Kong people should not be saying to ourselves, “we are Chinese, so we should respect the Chinese government.” No. That is not freedom. That is acceptance of control by a third party.

We can respect the Chinese government without necessarily having to obey the Chinese government. That is freedom.

In Hong Kong, we do not have a system where the majority have decided what is best and where the system can be changed by the majority. We have a system where we have succumbed to the leadership of a small party, be it the PRC or our unrepresentative SAR government.

Perhaps the government leaders in Taiwan don’t want same sex marriage to be legal. That doesn’t matter, because in Taiwan, for the most part, the people control the government, not the other way around. The people in Taiwan have this freedom. And in Taiwan, these free people have chosen marriage equality.

Photo: PinkDot Hong Kong.

In Hong Kong, I’m willing to bet that most of the people — if we seize the freedom from our parents that we have gained through becoming adults, and if we seize the freedom from the PRC government that we are supposedly guaranteed through the “one country, two systems” principle, and if we seize the freedom from authoritarian rule by our own HK government we should be afforded through the concept of representative democracy, also guaranteed by the Basic Law — if we seized that freedom, most of us would accept the idea of marriage equality.

I believe we are every bit as ready for it, and as accepting of it, as are the people of Taiwan.

If only we were free.

Instead, we see things like our outgoing CE appointing someone the majority of us may recognize as an anti-gay bigot to the EOC, a body who shouldn’t be anti-anything except inequality. And there’s very little we can do about it.

Ben Olmsted

Ben Olmsted is a tree-hugging, bleeding-heart liberal Californian who has chosen Hong Kong as his adopted home since 1995.