Hong Kong’s equality watchdog has said it has “no comment” on last week’s breakthrough gay rights ruling from the top court, as sexual minorities are not protected by anti-discrimination legislation.

Jimmy Sham
Hong Kong activist Jimmy Sham. File photo: Etan Liam, via Flickr.

Last Tuesday, the Court of Final Appeal handed a partial victory to LGBTQ advocates, ruling that the government had not fulfilled its constitutional duty to provide any legal framework for same-sex relationships to be recognised.

See also: Explainer: LGBTQ rights in Hong Kong – breakthroughs and bitter court battles against discriminatory laws

The court made a declaration that it was unconstitutional of the government not to have alternative means for the legal recognition of same-sex relationships – such as civil unions – and that it had to provide such frameworks.

However, the ruling was not explicitly welcomed by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC): “The Court of Final Appeal’s Judgment relates to a case concerning the recognition of same-sex marriage overseas in Hong Kong, which is outside the scope of the existing anti-discrimination ordinances,” a spokesperson told HKFP. “Therefore the EOC has no comment.”

‘Case has not completely concluded’

The top court’s declaration was suspended for two years, meaning that it will give the government two years to come up with a mechanism that recognises same-sex relationships before it will say whether the government is in breach of the law.

When asked by HKFP whether the authorities will respect the ruling, a Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau spokesperson said that “[s]ince the parties may lodge written submissions on relief as directed by the Court, the case has not completely concluded and it is inappropriate to give any comment at this juncture.”

The Chief Executive’s Office also did not directly answer when asked if the government would respect the ruling. It told HKFP last week that it had no comment, as it referred the enquiry to other departments.

LGBT gay rights transgender flag
LGBT and transgender flags. File photo: Cecilie Johnsen.

Whilst same-sex sexual activity was legalised in 1991, Hong Kong has no laws to protect the LGBTQ community from discrimination in employment, the provision of goods and services, or from hate speech. Equal marriage remains illegal, although a 2023 survey showed that 60 per cent of Hongkongers support it. Despite repeated government appeals, courts have granted those who married – or who entered civil partnerships – abroad some recognition in terms of tax, spousal visas and public housing.

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Tom is the editor-in-chief and founder of Hong Kong Free Press. He has a BA in Communications and New Media from Leeds University and an MA in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong. He has contributed to the BBC, Euronews, Al-Jazeera and others.