By Jerome Yau
In 2001, the Netherlands blazed a trail when it legalised same-sex marriage. Over the past two decades, nearly 30 countries have said yes to equal marriage rights including, in 2020, Switzerland, notwithstanding an ongoing bid by opponents of gay marriage to put the issue to a national referendum.
In Hong Kong, we have come a long way from the ”dark ages” when being gay was a criminal offence. Since the Law Reform Commission released its report on laws governing homosexual conduct in 1983, our society has move forward – more and more people agree that LGBT+ people should be treated fairly and equally. When it comes to equal marriage, the latest Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) survey indicated that only 23 per cent opposed the idea.
Over the past three years, small but important progress has been made when it comes to recognising same-sex relationships. The QT case in 2018 paved the way for same-sex spousal visas, and the Leung Chun Kwong case in 2019 enabled legally married same-sex couples to file joint income tax assessment. Last year, the Court of First Instance ruled in favour of two same-sex couples concerning public rental housing and intestacy.
In light of this, it is particularly gut-wrenching that a gay widower has to fight in court to keep his matrimonial home. Also, it is perplexing why the government keeps squandering taxpayers’ money by fighting tooth and nail in every single case concerning LGBT+ equality – our courts have made it clear that sexual orientation-based discrimination cannot be tolerated, and case law is definitely not on the side of the government.
It doesn’t hurt to reiterate that LGBT+ couples are taxpayers, too. They are asking for equal treatment, not special rights. While the economic and business case for marriage equality is well-documented, it is worth pointing out that marriage equality has a positive impact on the mental health of same-sex couples. Furthermore, same-sex couples raise children too, and by extension, equal marriage means looking after the rights of the children raised by these couples.
Facts speak louder than words. In places where same-sex marriage is legal, the sky has not fallen, and fire and brimstone certainly didn’t rain on these places. The institution of marriage remains intact and strong, and churches and other places of worship can refuse to bless same-sex marriages.
Locally, marriages by Chinese law and custom were legal until 1971. Obviously, the current definition of marriage – the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of others – is anything but traditional. Also, Chinese culture is not inherently homophobic. In fact, it is widely agreed that opposition to homosexuality in mainland China had a lot to do with Westernisation efforts in 19th and 20th centuries. And thanks to the colonial government and church-sponsored schools, generations of Hongkongers were taught to believe in the “virtues” of Victorian morality.
Our knowledge and understating of LGBT+ issues has grown by leaps and bounds since the 1980s. We know that by opening the door to same-sex marriage, we make our society fairer. Therefore, our government should stop dithering and demonstrate leadership to give Hong Kong to a happier and stronger future.
Jerome Yau is a co-founder of Hong Kong Marriage Equality.
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