The LGBT people of Hong Kong took another hit when the Court of Appeal turned down an appeal against the city’s long-standing ban on same-sex marriage for people who have been legally married elsewhere.
LGBTQ activists have won many court cases in recent years against the discrimination that is written into Hong Kong’s laws.
The decision on Wednesday, however, shows that the current ban on gay marriage will likely have to be overturned by legislation, not by the courts.
The appeal was filed by Jimmy Sham, a well-known activist who married his Hong Kong partner in the United States in 2013 and is now working to make their relationship legal in his home country.
Sham is one of dozens of activists who are in jail waiting to be charged under a new national security law. This law was pushed on Hong Kong by Beijing after large protests to put an end to dissent. Sham also believes in democracy.
Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, only “prefers heterosexual marriage.” This means that only heterosexual spouses can have their overseas marriages recognised, according to a decision by three justices on Wednesday.
The judges also said that recognising same-sex couples who got married abroad would “make them incompatible” with gay couples who can’t legally get married in Hong Kong.
The only court that can now change the decision is the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal. Sham’s lawsuit has already been thrown out by two courts, so it’s not clear if he will try again.
Over the past few years, there have been more and more court victories in Hong Kong.
Spousal visas have been given to a foreign lesbian couple, and it has been decided that the husband of an immigration officer should be able to get the same benefits as heterosexual workers.
In 2004, the courts said it was wrong to make the age of consent for gay men in the country 21 instead of 16, but the law didn’t change until ten years later.
More and more foreign companies are supporting marriage equality campaigns because they think it will make it easier to hire good people. Polls show that more Hong Kongers, especially younger ones, support gay rights.
But Hong Kong’s government, which is backed by Beijing, hasn’t shown much interest lately in passing laws that could lead to equality for LGTBQ people who live there.
Many of the people who fought for equality were part of the city’s now-demolished democratic movement, and some well-known politicians who support the government have spoken out against gay rights.
Most of Asia hasn’t made much progress in the fight for equal marriage rights.
At the moment, Taiwan is the only country in the area where gay marriage is legal.
This week, Singapore’s government said that a law from the colonial era that made gay relationships illegal would be taken away.
It also promised to change the city state’s constitution so that the traditional meaning of marriage would not be challenged in court.