Hong Kong overturns ruling granting spousal benefits to husband of gay civil servant

LGBT parade, Hong Kong

A Hong Kong court has ruled that the husband of a male civil servant is not entitled to spousal benefits.

The move overturns a previous lower court ruling, in a blow for the territory’s LGBT community.

Same-sex marriage is not currently legal in Hong Kong, but Angus Leung Chun-kwong, an immigration officer, legally married Scott Paul Adams in New Zealand in 2014.

In 2015, Leung filed a judicial review against the government after it denied medical and dental benefits for Adams.

In April last year, the High Court ruled that the couple were entitled to spousal benefits, but rejected their bid for a joint tax assessment as a married couple.

The government and couple then appealed the court decision.

This week, the Court of Appeal ruled that the government, as not just a private employer but “a custodian of Hong Kong’s prevailing socio-moral values”, had an aim to protect the institution of traditional marriage, Reuters reported.

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)

Same-sex marriages are not legal in Hong Kong (ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images)

Court of appeal judge Jeremy Poon wrote: “If spousal benefits and joint assessment, which have been long associated closely and exclusively with marriage, were made available to homosexual couples, it would per se undermine, or be perceived by many to undermine, the status of marriage.”

The Court of Appeal upheld the lower court’s ruling that the couple’s taxes could not be assessed together.

Leung commented he and Adams were “deeply disappointed” and said it was a “step back for equality.”

The LGBT community in Hong Kong still faces a number a challenges.

Earlier this year, an equality watchdog in the region said transgender people should have their legal status recognised without requiring gender surgery.

The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) urged the territory’s government to change the law on this issue.

The status of transgender people should be recognised as long as they have made a “statutory declaration that he or she intends to live permanently in his or her affirmed gender”, the commission said.