Rights group argue that public perceptions of sexual minorities in the city have shifted and that legislation should be implemented accordingly to offer the most basic protections
Many Hongkongers support allowing same-sex couples to ask about their partner’s medical condition and claim their ashes after they die, yet the city still does not recognise such rights and continues to fall behind on LGBTI equality.
A study by the Chinese University of Hong Kong showed that 54 per cent of the public support the right of same-sex couples in a long-term stable relationship to ask doctors about their partner’s medical conditions, while less than 20 per cent were opposed. About 64 per cent also agreed that they should be able to claim their deceased partner’s ashes, and less than 10 per cent disagreed. The study polled 1,013 Chinese-speaking people aged 18 and above.
Rights group say Hong Kong urgently needs to implement legislation recognising the rights of sexual minorities in the city – a vulnerable population that lacks some of the most basic protections.
“Why is it not important for same-sex couples to be buried together, or to be able to share the last part of their life together if they are in an emergency medical situation? We are second-class citizens. It’s heartbreaking,” Tommy Chen, executive officer of local LGBTI group Rainbow of Hong Kong, said. “It’s just a shame and makes Hong Kong look ugly.”
Gay rights in Asia came under the spotlight last month with the suspected suicide of a gay professor in Taiwan – an event that provoked widespread outrage and could propel Taiwan into becoming the first in the region to legalise same-sex marriage.
Friends believe that Frenchman Jacques Picoux committed suicide as a result of depression following the death of his Taiwanese partner of 35 years last year, the Guardian reported. Picoux was denied the right to participate in vital medical decisions during his partner’s final moments and was left afterwards with no legal claim over the property they shared.
Unlike some other common law jurisdictions, Hong Kong has yet to legalise same-sex marriage, and does not recognise the legal status of overseas same-sex marriages, civil partnerships and unions.
Although a January Equal Opportunities Commission survey showed that 91.8 per cent of people aged 18 to 24 supported the implementation of an anti-discrimination law to protect sexual minorities, the city still does not have such legislation, leaving many vulnerable to abuse in all areas of their lives.
Brian Leung Siu-fai, chief campaigner of the Big Love Alliance, slammed the government for dragging its feet on protection of LGBTI rights. In the past five years, many studies had been released showing a shift in public opinion towards the LGBTI community, yet the government still insisted there was no public mandate for taking concrete action, he said.
Official recognition of same-sex couples was important not only because it recognised the love between two people, but also because marriage conferred a host of basic human rights that affected countless aspects of one’s life from housing to insurance, Leung said. Even if the city did not legalise same-sex marriage soon, it needed to take steps to recognise same-sex love, he added, for example by introducing the concept of civil partnerships or unions.
Those who oppose equality and say that they want to protect so-called traditional values are infringing on the basic human rights of LGBTI individuals, Leung said.
In Hong Kong there has been growing awareness surrounding LGBTI issues in recent years. Earlier this summer, former Labour Party lawmaker Cyd Ho Sau-lan proposed broadening the definition of a relative of a dead person in a government bill to include partners from overseas same-sex marriages.
In March, a British lesbian lost in the first legal bid against the Immigration Department for its refusal to grant her a visa to reside and work in Hong Kong with her partner, while in December last year a civil servant challenged the government’s refusal to recognise his overseas same-sex marriage.
The city’s Electronic Health Record Sharing System Ordinance was amended to allow those residing with a patient to make decisions on behalf of them if they are unable to do so physically or mentally.
Same-sex couples are also protected under the Domestic and Cohabitation Relationships Violence Ordinance
Despite this trend, Hong Kong still lags behind other countries in Asia as well as globally on LGBTI rights, said CUHK Gender Studies Assistant Professor Suen Yiu-tung, one of the study’s co-authors. For instance, although same-sex marriage was not legal in Japan, same-sex couples were allowed to register their relationships, he said.
“Whether someone should be able to claim their partner’s ashes is one of the most ridiculous questions I’ve ever asked,” Suen said, adding that the government would be moving against public opinion if it continued to refuse to take these rights seriously. “In Hong Kong, we can only lag behind for a certain amount of time before we feel really ashamed about how we’re treating minorities.”
Rights groups say although there is growing support for LGBTI individuals, it is not overt because sexuality is still a taboo topic. Yet such support does not equate to full recognition, and still creates a barrier that denies rights to a vulnerable group, said Marco Wan, associate professor of law at the University of Hong Kong.
“I don’t think we should delay more in trying to advocate for these rights,” Wan said. “We need to recognise people of different sexual orientations as people of equal dignity. As long as Hong Kong doesn’t recognise that, we haven’t come far enough.”