The Court of Appeal has begun hearing the government’s appeal over a lower court’s decision to grant spousal benefits to the husband of a gay Hong Kong civil servant.

Angus Leung, an immigration officer, married his husband Scott Adams in New Zealand in 2014. Leung applied to the Civil Service Bureau for a change in his marital status to obtain welfare, such as medical benefits, for Adams.

File photo: In-Media.

But the bureau did not allow the change and denied benefits to Adams, stating that Hong Kong does not recognise same-sex marriages. Leung filed for judicial review in 2015, alleging violations of the Basic Law, the Hong Kong Bill of Rights and the Sexual Discrimination Ordinance.

In April, the Court of First Instance ruled in favour of Leung, with judge Anderson Chow writing that the allowance of benefits for same-sex marriage partners would not constitute an indirect legalisation of same-sex marriage. However, the government then appealed the court’s ruling.

On Monday, the Civil Service Bureau – represented by Queen’s Counsel Monica Carss-Frisk – told the court that same-sex marriages are not recognised by the Hong Kong government, even if the applicant wed overseas. As civil servant benefits are based on whether a marriage is recognised, Leung’s husband cannot obtain such benefits, she argued.

Angus Leung.

Carss-Frisk also said that the government cannot, on the one hand, refuse to recognise same-sex marriages and on the other, allow partners of same-sex couples to obtain benefits. She said this would mean agreeing with the legalisation of same-sex marriage and would impact the local marriage system.

Carss-Frisk added that a marriage does not only concern a person’s sexual orientation, and the government plays a role in matters such as adoption, divorce and tax, Ming Pao reported.

However, the judge said that the government can still protect the rights of civil servants without recognising same-sex marriage, citing European countries as an example.

Carss-Frisk also represented the director of immigration in the case of QT, a lesbian expatriate who won a legal challenge against the government after previously being denied a dependent visa by the Immigration Department. The government has appealed the ruling.

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.