Hong Kong has a statutory body that exists to promote equal opportunities and aims to eliminate discrimination: the Equal Opportunities Commission. But as he took up his position last year, the EOC’s new commissioner Ricky Chu made some alarming statements which negate its very purpose. Citing a “logic based on realistic outcomes,” he indicated that working towards the legalisation of same-sex marriages in Hong Kong would be to “waste resources.”
He further indicated that this was a “really controversial issue at the moment” and that “if we keep on thinking about the controversial issues, then the heated debate and polarisation of the society will stop us from effectively carrying on with our work.”
This is not just a portent for inaction. This came across as a purposeful deference to discrimination under the guise of prioritising resources, and staving off controversy. In not so many words, it is a chilling declaration of feigning a harmonious society by refusing to address significant minority issues.
Marriage is an institution that has evolved over time. It has included economic and social alliances, the subjugation of women, the usurpation of property, the involvement of religious rites and the power that comes with religious sanction, the ability to divorce, love, and variably accepted relationships trends (acceptance of extra-marital partners of different descriptions, for instance).
It carries a tremendous amount of weight. It confers rights and privileges. It provides tax breaks and residency rights, various other benefits, and confers legitimacy and social acceptance. For some of us to be able to participate in it, and for others not to, is blatant discrimination and unequal treatment.
Correcting this should not be about how “practical” it supposedly is. It should not be about how “controversial” someone deems it. It should not be about how “heated” a debate someone claims it has ignited. This type of language and intent is simply diversionary.
I posit that it is highly impractical to have a section of our society discriminated against. It is controversial that some of us have access to an institution, and the many things it brings with it, and others do not. It is controversial that this withholding of visible and significant rights leads to on-going propagations of otherness being inflicted upon the gay community, which already suffers from many other kinds of discrimination.
It is condescending to suggest that our society should accept a neglect of same-sex marriage rights as a budgetary or resource concern. When changes need to take place that run counter to some ingrained social patterns, and when the rights of people are at stake, it is offensive to suggest that anybody should simply nod and agree to accept the indignity and damage of discrimination and inequality because of some imposed fear of rocking the boat.
It is akin to being told to calm down and wait your turn, while the people who don’t consider you worthy of equal rights carry on with their discrimination, and continue to benefit from the rights that you are being kept from.
If there is a real fear of disharmony in society, and a sincere intention to decrease any polarisation (imagined or otherwise), let me suggest that – in 2020 – the EOC try to address why some sections of our society may want to withhold rights from others, why some may want to fuel hate against minority groups, and why some appear to think that not only are their lives, beings, and choices the only right and good, but that somehow this should mean that others – who simply want to be treated equally – should be treated as less.
Let me suggest that, this year, the EOC stay true to its purpose, that of working towards equal rights and opportunities for all, instead of publicly stating that some of the most significant contemporary parts of that work – such as working towards legalising same-sex marriages – would “waste resources.”