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Hong Kong Court Rules Against Same-Sex Marriage

Hong Kong Court Rules Against Same-Sex Marriage

It's a major setback for Asia's marriage equality movement.

A Hong Kong court delivered a major setback to Asia's marriage equality movement on Friday by upholding the city's denial of relationship recognition to same-sex couples.

On Friday, Judge Anderson Chow of the Court of First Instance ruled that extending marriage rights to LGBTQ+ couples would lead to "far-reaching consequences" and that it was "beyond the proper scope of the functions or powers of the court, in the name of interpretation, to seek to effect a change of social policy on such a fundamental issue."

The verdict comes down just five months after Taiwan became the first polity in Asia to allow same-sex partners to marry. In May 2017, its constitutional court ruled that refusing to recognize the relationships of LGBTQ+ couples is "unconstitutional" and gave lawmakers two years to pass a marriage equality bill or the freedom to marry would automatically become the law of the land.

Although conservatives pushed a national referendum in which 72 percent of Taiwanese voted against marriage equality, the result was nonbinding. The parliament passed a bill in May, which was signed into law by President Tsai Ing-wen.

Observers hoped Hong Kong could be the next major municipality in Asia to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples following a June 2018 from a woman referred to by the pseudonym "M.K." in court filings. "M.K." and her girlfriend are both permanent residents in the South Asian city of 7.3 million and claimed the government's refusal to recognize their relationship violated its 1997 constitution.

In a statement to the New York Times, Amnesty International Hong Kong Director Tam Man-kei said the petitioner's "decision to challenge this discrimination in court was an opportunity for Hong Kong to break away from the injustices of the past and start shaping a more fair and equal society."

"Sadly, the discriminatory treatment of same-sex couples will continue for the time being," Tam said.

There had been some positive developments for LGBTQ+ couples in Hong Kong in recent years. After ruling in 2013 that a transgender woman had the right to marry her boyfriend, the High Court directed the legislature to draft a bill recognizing their union within a year, and the law was enacted in 2014.

Last year the Court of Final Appeal granted spousal visa rights to same-sex couples and extended partner benefits to a gay couple earlier this year.

But while Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who is currently embroiled in controversy over the months-long protests that have rocked the city, says the government has no plans to discuss full legalization, Hong Kong's Equal Opportunities Commission has stressed an incremental approach to LGBTQ+ rights.

Japan and Thailand are likely to be the next Asian countries to take action on the issue. Thailand is currently weighing a civil partnerships bill, while 13 same-sex couples filed lawsuits in February urging Japan to grant them marriage rights.

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