Push to Modernising LGBTQ and Cohabitant Rights: Hong Kong Equal Opportunities Commission reports dismal record

August 9, 2019

2 min read

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What's going on here?

A report by Allen & Overy commissioned by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) finds LGBTQ and cohabitant couples in Hong Kong are treated differently from heterosexual married couples in nearly 100 ways.

What does this mean?

The wide-ranging report examined over 1700 provisions across the city’s 537 ordinances (or legislative acts) and subsidiary laws. The report highlights how Hong Kong’s marital and family status anti-discrimination laws only protect those recognised as married under Hong Kong law (i.e. between a man and a woman). It identified 21 areas of law where non-recognition and/or inconsistencies exist in the law for cohabiting and LGBTQ couples.

As it stands, only married couples can apply for and live in public housing, jointly adopt children, access reproductive technology like artificial insemination and be entitled to succeed each other’s estates (without a will) upon death.

Cohabiting couples are entitled to the Mandatory Provident Fund Schemes (the city’s pension scheme) and have limited access to anti-discrimination protection. Cohabiting and LGBTQ couples alike suffer disadvantages on criminal investigations as no protection exists from incriminating their partners. They also enjoy fewer tax benefits and are not entitled to automatic approval to donate each other’s organs from the Human Organ Transplant Board, which could cause delays in critical circumstances.

What's the big picture effect?

This study raises a whole set of issues on the recognition and treatment of alternative relationships in Hong Kong. Particularly, it highlights the impact of the lack of a standardised definition across different areas of law, which results in lower and more inconsistent protection for cohabiting and LGBTQ couples

Although there are incremental successes via several ongoing cases before the Hong Kong Courts challenging the lawfulness of various discriminatory policies in place, this report highlights a great need for a systematic upheaval of how these relationships are defined and treated under law.  Given the increasing number of cohabiting couples over the past 25 years, as well as big shifts in public opinion towards alternative relationships, these changing social values and attitudes should also be reflected in law.

Similarly, the EOC hopes that this consultation and report will move the debate towards recognition of alternative relationships, not just opposite-sex marriages. On this, Mark Bower (partner at Allen & Overy) adds “We hope the report provides a solid basis on which stakeholders interested in this area will consider next steps”.

Report written by Roslyn Lai

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