Hong Kong gay marriage 01
Hong Kong gay marriage 01

Hong Kong Court Rules Against Gay Marriage as HIV and Conversion Therapy Are on the Rise

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Last year a Hong Kong court ruled it was unconstitutional for the government not to recognize the same-sex marriage of a Hong Kong native and his husband, whom he’d married in New Zealand. But today an appeals court overturned that decision. News of the Hong Kong gay marriage decision accompanies reports of increases in gay conversion therapy and HIV rates.

The Hong Kong gay marriage case (and what happens next)

The Hong Kong gay marriage case began in 2015 when Angus Leung Chun-kwong, an employee of the country’s Immigration Department since 2002, sued the department for not extending spousal benefits to Scott Adams, his husband. The two had married in New Zealand in 2014.

Hong Kong’s Court of First Instance ruled that denying marriage benefits was unconstitutional based purely on a desire to discriminate against Chun-kwong’s sexual orientation. But in a ruling issued today by the country’s Court of Appeal, beyond being a mere employer the Hong Kong government also serves as “a custodian of Hong Kong’s prevailing socio-moral values.”

Furthermore, the Court said that a ruling in Chun-kwong’s favor would legalize same-sex marriage “through the back door” and inevitably lead to legal challenges in other areas like “public housing, social welfare, public medical benefits, employment benefits and protection, pensions and life insurance” — areas beyond the scope of federally issued benefits.

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Scott Adams and Angus Leung Chun-kwong, plaintiffs in the Hong Kong gay marriage case; image via South China Morning Post

Hong Kong’s laws do not define marriage as between a man and a woman, but judges argued the word is understood as such.

Chun-kwong had also sued for Hong Kong’s taxation office to recognize his marriage, but the court ruled against him both in the initial case and its appeal. Chun-kwong says he will consult legal experts before deciding whether or not to appeal his Hong Kong gay marriage case to the region’s highest court.

Naturally the Hong Kong LGBTQ community, which celebrated Chun-kwong’s 2017 legal victory, has called the latest ruling discriminatory and both contrary to human rights and changing international views on marriage.

Conversion therapy and HIV rates on the rise in Hong Kong

Hong Kong repealed its colonial era laws criminalizing homosexuality in 1991. Currently it has laws forbidding anti-gay discrimination by the government and has had virtually no instances of anti-LGBTQ violence. Nevertheless, it remains hampered by a widespread view of homosexuality as antithetical to traditional family structure in which children are expected to marry, have kids and then care for their parents in an unending cycle of filial piety.

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In this cultural environment, LGBTQ activists have reported hearing more and more stories of LGBTQ people sent to so-called gay conversion therapy clinics run by Christian groups.

Nocus Yung from Hong Kong-based pro-LGBT group Queer Theology Academy says these groups try to change people’s sexual orientation and gender identity through prayer, cold showers and abstinence from any same-sex sexual or romantic encounters.

Almost every major psychological association in existence condemns conversion therapy as a form of psychological torture. Religious conservatives in Hong Kong (and America) have tried to defend the torture by claiming banning it would violate their free speech and religious freedom.

An annual national health survey also found that 6.54% of gay Hong Kong men have HIV, compared to the 4% reported in each of the three previous years. While this percentage is lower than the 10% reported in other Southeast Asian cities, Marco Wong Ka-chung — head of marketing and communications from AIDS Concern, an HIV-related non-governmental organization — said this higher rate of new infections might actually reflect more gay men getting tested and reporting their HIV status.

Hong Kong is more gay-friendly than other Asian countries, but it still lags behind in rights

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The Hong Kong skyline

Hong Kong also lags behind Western countries in terms of legal rights. The region lacks comprehensive anti-discrimination laws in housing, employment and public accommodations; it offers neither legal recognition of same-sex couples nor any rights for adoption or raising children. Worse yet, government policy requires trans citizens to undergo full gender reassignment surgery before changing any gender markers on their ID, a costly procedure the United Nations denounces as a form of torture when forced.

As a result, a 2012 study found 80% of openly LGBTQ Hongkongers experiencing queerphobic abuse at work, while 42% worried about losing social connections or personal relationships over coming out. Thus, many queer Hongkongers remain closeted or marry someone of the opposite sex just to fulfill societal expectations.

Nevertheless, Hong Kong will host the 2022 Gay Games. As the first Asian city ever to host the Gay Games, the 40,000 LGBTQ visitors from around the world could provide positive role models, help change cultural perceptions about being LGBTQ and get the region thinking and talking about LGBTQ issues in entirely new ways.

What do you think of the Hong Kong gay marriage ruling and its increases in HIV and conversion therapy? Sound off in the comments.

Featured image via hongkongfp.com