British lesbian wins legal recognition of her union in landmark Hong Kong case

LGBT parade, Hong Kong

A British lesbian who was not allowed to work and had to leave her wife every six months has won legal recognition of their union.

Hong Kong’s government and courts had previously refused to recognise the civil partnership which a lesbian couple known only as SS and QT attained in Britain.

SS would have been allowed to bring a husband on a spousal visa, but because their union is not recognised under Hong Kong law, immigration authorities in the former British colony have repeatedly rejected QT’s spousal visa application.

A couple pose for a portrait at Pink Dot, a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender/transsexual and intersex (LGBTI) carnival in the West Kowloon district of Hong Kong on September 25, 2016. Pink Dot, 2016, is a free carnival co-organised by BigLove Alliance and Pink Alliance for friends, family and colleagues of the LGBTI community that celebrates inclusivity and diversity. / AFP / ISAAC LAWRENCE        (Photo credit should read ISAAC LAWRENCE/AFP/Getty Images)


The case has dragged on for more than two years.

But this morning, the Court of Appeal unanimously ruled that QT and SS should receive the same spousal benefits as a heterosexual couple, according to QT’s lawyers.

All three judges agreed that the immigration department has “failed to justify the indirect discrimination on account of sexual orientation that QT suffers,” according to Quartz.

“Times have changed and an increasing number of people are no longer prepared to accept the status quo without critical thought,” the judges wrote.

Same-sex marriage is not legal in Hong Kong.

HONG KONG, CHINA: Matt Pearce (L) and Adrian Smith (R) wearing wedding dresses and holding placards run along with thousands of participants in the 10km Men's Open race of Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon 2005 in Tsim Tsa Tsui district of Hong Kong, 27 February 2005. Matt and Adrian joined the marathon as a running demonstration calling on the government to allow same-sex-marriage. "We chose the marathon because it is a middle class family event and it's that class of people who are preventing gays the right to marry," said Matt Pearce, protest co-ordinator and spokesman for activist group International Action. Homosexuality was only decriminalised in Hong Kong in 1991 and the age of consent for gays is 21 even though for heterosexuals it is 16. Gay marriage is still banned. Gay and lesbian groups say authorities have hardened their opposition since rule of Hong Kong was transferred in 1997 to China, where homosexuality, though lawful, is stigmatised. AFP PHOTO/TED ALJIBE (Photo credit should read TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images)


Despite this, the judges said that “immigration, by definition, requires one to consider not only the local, but also the relevant overseas situation.”

In March of last year, the territory’s High Court rejected the case.

Mr Justice Thomas Au Hing-cheung ruled that the concept of “spouse” in other countries is not necessarily valid in Hong Kong, where it is defined as between a man and woman.

In June, QT received a boost for her legal challenge in the shape of support from 12 huge financial institutions.

hong kong pride parade


The Court of Appeals’ decision happened on the same day that Hong Kong will officially start accepting blood donations from gay men.

The territory announced earlier this month men will be able to give blood as long as they have not had sex with another man in the past 12 months.

A participant of Hong Kong's annual pride parade stands next to a large rainbow flag on November 26, 2016.  A huge rainbow flag led thousands through the streets of Hong Kong on November 26 as the city's LGBT community braved the rain and wind to call for equality at its annual pride parade. / AFP / Aaron TAM        (Photo credit should read AARON TAM/AFP/Getty Images)


The Red Cross Blood Transfusion Centre made the announcement two weeks ago that it was changing its guidelines, as supplies of blood in the territory fell to “an alarming level”.

Earlier this year, the equality watchdog for Hong Kong said he felt he “could do better” in protecting LGBT and ethnic minorities.