There have been two new and exciting developments for the LGBTQ+ community in Hong Kong recently. Both resulting from a recent legal case that was concluded in early June, 2019.
In short form, Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal has ruled that a gay civil servant, Angus Leung, and his British husband, Scott Adams can be assessed for joint income tax, and that Adams can and should receive spousal benefits from Leung’s employer (being the HK government). Mr Leung and Mr Adams married legally in New Zealand.
While this does not alter the ability of LGBTQ+ couples to become legally married in Hong Kong, it does follow on from another landmark legal decision in 2018 that allowed legally married couples to apply for full dependent visas to Hong Kong, regardless of gender.
What does this mean more generally?
The decision in the recent case is not 100% applicable to the wider population of Hong Kong. The ability of couples to file joint tax returns regardless of their genders is now generally applicable. However, the extension of spousal benefits to employees is only required by the HK government – there is no legal requirement for private companies to do this too. Nevertheless, it may be the case that public pressure in the future will result in a more general shift in HR policies and practices throughout private sector businesses in HK.
The motivation for Mr Leung to take action in the first place stemmed from a need to have consistency from his employer. Frequently there are government billboards and posters erected that encourage policies of diversity and inclusion, and emphasise the government’s position as a non-discriminatory employer. However, it has been reported that Mr Leung’s personal experiences directly contradicted his employer’s stated position.
There are two more impending judicial reviews in Hong Kong. One is addressing an LGBTQ+ couple’s right to access housing, the other is regarding an LGBTQ+ couple’s right to a legal union.
The landscape is slowly shifting here. Social attitudes and cultural norms can be tough to change, but with the courts leading the way people are increasingly willing to stand out of the shadows. The LGBTQ+ community in Hong Kong has much to celebrate this Pride Month!
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