Legal experts have hailed the Court of Appeal’s “landmark” decision on Monday to rule in favour of a lesbian expatriate who was previously refused a spousal visa by the Immigration Department.
The applicant, QT, entered into a civil partnership with another woman, SS, in the UK in 2011. But when SS came to Hong Kong for work, Immigration only allowed QT to enter the city on a tourist visa. QT then challenged the decision by filing a judicial review.
Her solicitor, human rights lawyer Michael Vidler, told HKFP that it was a great decision not just for QT and her family, but also for many others in Hong Kong who are in a similar situation and were waiting for a positive decision.
Vidler said that it was also a good decision for the LGBT community, because the chief judge noted that hallmarks previously considered to be exclusive to heterosexual marriage also applied to same-sex partnerships.
“It was the first time that the Hong Kong court made such observations, and there were references in the judgment that we have to keep up with the times. That was something that heartened me and made me optimistic for the future,” he said.
Vidler further said that the ruling will “keep Hong Kong as the top provider of financial services in the world,” noting that the financial industry has had difficulty recruiting and maintaining talent coming to the city.
Step towards equality
Although the court earlier rejected an application by 12 financial institutions to intervene in the case, there was an opportunity for QT’s legal team to put forward their arguments. As one of the major employers and contributors to the city’s GDP, Vidler said that the benefits to the financial industry meant that the judgment was also good for Hong Kong as a whole.
In a press statement on Tuesday, the 12 institutions said they were pleased with the ruling: “This is a major victory for Hong Kong—it is not just about diversity and inclusion but also equality. We believe the ability to attract world class talent, regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or background, is essential for maintaining Hong Kong’s competitiveness as a preeminent global financial centre. We will continue to advocate policies and practices that facilitate this.”
Geoffrey Yeung, member of Progressive Lawyers Group, told HKFP: “[The] judgment is an important step towards equality for same sex couples in Hong Kong. It is a recognition that same sex relationships in Hong Kong are valid relationships.”
Yeung added that it was a “landmark judgment” as the Court of Appeal ruling confirmed what the Court of First Instance said in a case involving Angus Leung, a Hong Kong civil servant who registered a same-sex marriage in New Zealand and fought the government to obtain civil service welfare benefits for his husband. There, the court had ruled that differential treatment in marital status in granting of spousal benefits would be discriminatory.
However, he also said that there is a “catch” in that one of the judges said that there is a difference between core and non-core rights, and classified immigration as a non-core right. However, the court did not fully consider arguments relating to core rights such as divorce, inheritance and adoption, leaving questions open as to whether challenges involving core rights by same sex couples will inevitably fail.
“Future challenges to these core rights remain to be determined,” Yeung said, adding that the court will reconsider whether the distinction is satisfactory.