In a landmark decision, Hong Kong’s Court of Appeal has dismissed a government attempt to deny same-sex married couples the right to rent and own public housing, deeming it “discriminatory in nature.” This ruling marks a significant victory for LGBTQ rights advocates in the global financial hub.
The government’s challenge stemmed from two High Court rulings that found it “unconstitutional and unlawful” for the city’s housing authority to exclude same-sex couples who had married abroad from accessing public housing. One case involved a permanent resident whose application to rent a public flat with his husband was rejected because their marriage in Canada was not recognized in Hong Kong. The other case centered on a same-sex couple denied joint ownership of a government-subsidized flat due to the lack of recognition of their marriage in Britain in Hong Kong.
The Court of Appeal justices, Jeremy Poon, Aarif Barma, and Thomas Au, emphasized in their written judgment that the housing authority’s treatment of gay married couples was “discriminatory in nature” and that these couples should be granted equal treatment. They further stated, “The differential treatment in the present cases is a more severe form of indirect discrimination than most cases because the criterion is one which same-sex couples can never meet.”
Henry Li, one of the individuals involved in the second case, welcomed the ruling on Facebook. Rights group Hong Kong Marriage Equality also expressed its approval, highlighting that the decision underscores that “discrimination and unequal treatment on the ground of sexual orientation have no place in public policy decisions.”
While Hong Kong’s top court ruled against same-sex marriage in September, it recognized the need for an alternative legal framework for same-sex couples to meet basic social requirements. The government was given a two-year timeline to establish such a framework. Activists across Asia are closely observing Hong Kong’s court rulings, hopeful that they may influence campaigns for LGBTQ reform in other regions.