A high-profile gay rights case in Hong Kong went to appeal yesterday, closely watched by campaigners who say the socially conservative territory is lagging in equal rights.
The British woman fighting the case is known to the court only as QT and was refused a spousal visa because she is in a same-sex partnership.
Major international firms, such as Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse, last week made an application to submit evidence to the Court of Appeal, saying they wanted to give a “more rounded picture of the issues,” emphasizing their commitment to diversity and desire to hire top talent from around the world.
However, the court refused their request, saying evidence they put forward was likely to repeat grounds already being presented by QT’s legal team.
Human rights lawyer Dinah Rose yesterday argued that even though same-sex marriage is not recognized under Hong Kong law, that did not mean same-sex couples in a civil partnership or married in a foreign jurisdiction should be denied the rights of heterosexual married couples.
Heterosexual spouses are eligible for “dependent” visas that allow them to enter Hong Kong and to work.
Rose said such treatment was “a form of discrimination” that goes against the territory’s core values and the principle of equality.
“We are dealing with real people, who have a real relationship and who have suffered a significant disadvantage because of their sexuality,” she said.
QT came to Hong Kong in 2011 after she entered into a civil partnership with a woman known as “SS” in Britain.
SS was moving to Hong Kong for a new job, but QT was denied a dependent visa and was instead given a visitor visa, which does not allow her to work.
She was later granted a 12-month visa under exceptional circumstances which did allow her to work, Rose said, but added that was still “less favorable” treatment.
QT lost a legal challenge at the High Court last year after a judge ruled that equating same-sex unions to married status was “not permissible” under Hong Kong law.
Rose said that people in polygamous marriages are allowed to bring in one of their spouses as a dependent, even though such relationships are not recognized in Hong Kong.
Immigration law does not explicitly mention same-sex couples, but states that only the “spouse” of a person permitted to work in the territory may apply for a dependent visa.
Judge Andrew Cheung yesterday said that gay people are treated “differently” in Hong Kong because of current marriage law.
“I’m of course not saying gay people are not protected in Hong Kong,” he said. “All I’m focusing on is in terms of the right to marriage.”
The hearing is due to last for two days.
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