Hong Kong’s LGBTQ rights groups are celebrating a judgment from the Court of Final Appeal siding with lesbian expat QT, who challenged the Director of Immigration for denying her a spousal visa to enter the city.

In a unanimous judgment handed down Wednesday morning, the court affirmed that the differential treatment towards QT amounted to unlawful discrimination.

QT entered into a civil partnership in 2011 with another woman in the UK. But when her partner came to Hong Kong for work, the Immigration Department denied QT’s application for a spousal visa. The subsequent legal challenge and its related appeals took four years to reach a conclusion.

Ray Chan Chi-chuen, Hong Kong’s first openly gay lawmaker, told reporters that he was “elated” by the court’s judgment.

Lawmaker Ray Chan Chi-chuen. Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

“This decision will change the lives of many Hong Kong-international couples who are now separated or inconvenienced by the discriminatory policy. I personally know many of these couples, and they plan on getting married overseas and apply for dependant visas to be reunited or settle down with their loved ones,” Chan said.

See also: Hong Kong’s highest court upholds landmark judgment in favour of lesbian expat QT

Chan said that much needed to be done, as he urged the government to conduct a sweeping policy review and institute civil unions in Hong Kong.

“A few courageous and determined LGBT citizens, such as QT in this case, went through a mentally and financially draining legal process to fight for themselves and many others,” he said. “Many couples are less fortunate, for instance, many are still in the closet for fear of being discriminated against and losing their jobs, or do not have the time and money to get married overseas.”

QT. Photo: Citizen News.

Chan also cited a recent study published by HKU that showed 50.4 per cent of respondents supporting same-sex marriage. He said there is “no more excuse” for the government to avoid policy reform.

‘Watershed moment’

Echoing Chan’s comments, Amnesty International said Hong Kong had moved closer to achieving full LGBTQ equality. Jan Wetzel, senior legal advisor at the rights NGO, said that the judgment was a “milestone for Hong Kong and a watershed moment for the rights of LGBTI people across Asia.”

“The Court of Final Appeal has sent a clear message that the government must respect the right to equality in its policies, including when it comes to immigration,” he said. “The government must now follow up and end the discrimination same-sex couples face in all walks of life.”

See also: Hong Kong’s ‘blind spot’: A British woman’s years-long fight against the gov’t to stay with her wife (2017)

Billy Leung, a prominent LGBTQ activist in Hong Kong, knew the applicant QT socially and said that the judgment was a small step in the right direction of recognising equal rights. He said the government must “pull its head out of the sand” and adapt to the changing landscape.

LGBTQ rights activist Billy Leung. Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

An Immigration Department spokesperson told HKFP that the government respects the decision of the court, and is “studying the judgment carefully” and seeking legal advice.

Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu, who oversees the Immigration Department, repeated the government’s stance at Legislative Council on Wednesday and did not respond to follow-up questions.

Holmes Chan

Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.