A motion urging the Hong Kong government to look into legal unions for gay couples was defeated in the Legislative Council on Thursday.

The non-binding motion, which was proposed by Hong Kong’s first openly gay lawmaker Ray Chan, was voted down 27-24 after three hours of debate.

Ray Chan. File photo: In-Media.

The motion asked the government to “study the formulation of policies for homosexual couples to enter into a union so that they can enjoy equal rights as heterosexual couples,” but stopped short of asking for gay marriage specifically.

“No matter if you like sexual minorities or not, they objectively exist… and their need to form unions exists. Whether through administrative or legal means, [the government] must find a way to address that,” Chan said.

Two pro-democracy lawmakers and one pro-Beijing lawmaker each tried to introduce amendments to Chan’s motion but all three were defeated.

Gary Fan’s amendment elaborated on the rights that should be made available to same-sex couples, and Au Nok-hin’s amendment included a call for civil unions.

The amendment proposed by Priscilla Leung said the government “should refrain from shaking the existing marriage institution as a show of respect for the mainstream values in Hong Kong society” and uphold the marriage institution based on “one man, one woman.”

Last Saturday’s pride parade. Photo: Jennifer Creery/HKFP.

Chan had previously criticised Leung for “hijacking” his motion since her amendment contradicted the intent of the motion, he said.

Pro-Beijing lawmaker support

On Thursday, Chan’s motion received broad support from the pro-democracy camp, with rare support across the aisle from Regina Ip, Eunice Yung and Paul Tse.

During the debate, Ip – who leads the New People’s Party – said she did not oppose Chan’s motion because it only called for the government to conduct a study. Ip also criticised her pro-Beijing colleague Leung for citing Chinese family values in her amendment.

“When Hong Kong became a British colony, for many years the law recognised concubines… So I think [Leung], as one of the many lawyers in LegCo, should be clear on what she is defending. It is a Judeo-Christian concept, not a traditional Chinese family value,” Ip said.

Regina Ip. Photo: inmediahk.net.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party’s James To broke rank and voted against the motion, saying that any change to the institution of marriage would have wide-reaching legal effects.

“Maybe because I’m a lawyer, when I hear marriage, I immediately think about the many [legal] relationships,” To said. “So the question is not just between two people.”

Secretary for Mainland and Constitutional Affairs Patrick Nip addressed lawmakers before the debate and said the Hong Kong government was committed to fighting discrimination.

Nip said the government’s stance was to uphold marriage as between one man and one woman, but noted that there was no law against homosexuality.

”Voted in favour of the motion (24) – click to view”

Au Nok-hin
Ray Chan Chi-chuen
Cheng Chung-tai
Fernando Cheung
Eddie Chu Hoi-dick
Gary Fan
Ip Kin-yuen
Regina Ip
Dennis Kwok
Kwok Ka-ki
Roy Kwong Chun-yu
Lam Cheuk-ting
Joseph Lee
Kenneth Leung
Leung Yiu-chung
Claudia Mo
Charles Mok
Jeremy Tam
Paul Tse
Andrew Wan
Helena Wong
Wu Chi-wai
Alvin Yeung
Eunice Yung Hoi-yan

”Voted against the motion (27) – click to view”

Chan Hak-kan
Vincent Cheng
Christopher Cheung
Cheung Kwok-kwan
Tommy Cheung
Ann Chiang Lai-wan
Holden Chow
Chung Kwok-pan
Junius Ho
Ho Kai-ming
Steven Ho
Kwok Wai-keung
Jeffrey Lam
Starry Lee
Priscilla Leung
Leung Che-cheung
Lo Wai-kwok
Luk Chung-hung
Alice Mak
Wilson Or
Abraham Shek
Shiu Ka-fai
Michael Tien
James To
Wong Kwok-kin
Frankie Yick
Yiu Si-wing

”Voted to abstain (6) – click to view”

Chan Chun-ying
Chan Kin-por
Martin Liao
Ma Fung-kwok
Poon Siu-ping
Tony Tse

”Did not vote (10) – click to view”

Chan Han-pan
Pierre Chan
Tanya Chan
Ted Hui Chi-fung
Kenneth Lau
Lau Kwok-fan
Jimmy Ng
Elizabeth Quat
Shiu Ka-chun
Wong Ting-kwong

“If Hong Kong were to recognise civil unions… it would unavoidably bring widespread and deep impact on Hong Kong’s marriage institution and social norms. I believe that [lawmakers] will agree that this is a very sensitive and controversial issue, and must be dealt with cautiously,” Nip added.

An HKU survey in July showed that over half of Hongkongers support same-sex marriage, a notable increase from 2013 when only 38 per cent supported it.

The last time the Legislative Council had a dedicated motion on LGBTQ issues was in 2012, when then-lawmaker Cyd Ho proposed that the government consult the public on an anti-discrimination law for sexual minorities.

The motion was voted down.

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.