The Hong Kong government has sought to take a case involving the rights of same-sex couples who married overseas to access public housing to the top court, after it lost an earlier appeal over its denial of such rights.

Housing Authority
Housing Authority. File photo: Wpcpey via Wikimedia Commons.

The Housing Authority (HA) on Wednesday told HKFP that it had decided to seek further appeal in the Court of Final Appeal, following an earlier ruling that granted same-sex couples who married overseas equal rights to live in the city’s public housing.

Last month, the Court of Appeal rejected the HA’s challenge against two earlier rulings on “all the grounds,” upholding a lower court’s decisions that denying same-sex couples’ equal rights to public housing was unlawful and unconstitutional.

“The Court of Appeal’s decision involved a number of important legal principles, which would have far-reaching implications for Housing Authority policies,” an spokesperson for the authority told HKFP in a Chinese-language emailed reply.

The HA would not comment on the case and the relevant policies given on-going legal procedures, the spokesperson added.

Daly & Associates, a law firm that represents Henry Li, who with his late partner Edgar Ng brought the original challenge against the HA, also told HKFP on Wednesday that it had received a notice from the authority about its decision to seek further appeal.

Equal rights to public housing

The appeals rejected last month stemmed from two separate judicial reviews filed in 2018 and 2019, respectively.

Nick Infinger launched his legal bid in 2018 after his application for public rental housing was declined by the government. The authorities had said his relationship with his partner, whom he married in Canada in 2018, fell outside the ordinary understanding of “husband” and “wife” as adopted by the Housing Authority.

The other judicial review was lodged in 2019 by Ng, who took his own life in 2020. Ng had challenged the Housing Authority’s refusal to recognise same-sex spouses as “spouses,” or other “family members” of subsidised flat owners who married overseas. Ng and Li married in the UK in 2017.

Henry Li and Edgar Ng gay couple gay marriage LGBT.
Henry Li and Edgar Ng’s wedding in 2017. Photo: Supplied.

Li took over his late husband’s legal bid after Ng’s death. After the court’s ruling last month, Li urged the Housing Authority not to further appeal.

“The case had been going on for over four years,” he wrote on Facebook in Chinese. “I sincerely hoped that, after careful consideration, the Housing Authority would not seek further appeal, and let Edgar rest at last.”

HKFP has also reached out to Haldanes, the firm that represents Infinger, for comment.

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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Hans Tse is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press with an interest in local politics, academia, and media transformation. He was previously a social science researcher, with writing published in the Social Movement Studies and Social Transformation of Chinese Societies journals. He holds an M.Phil in communication from the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Before joining HKFP, He also worked as a freelance reporter for Initium between 2019 and 2021, where he covered the height - and aftermath - of the 2019 protests, as well as the sweeping national security law imposed by Beijing in 2020.