Asian attitudes to acceptance of non-conformist couples are quietly changing.
In three places, same-sex marriage is allowed.
Bars and nightlife districts where gay people can meet are now found in many cities in China.
And in Hong Kong, the courts have been tentatively positive about legal recognition, particularly in one recent case.
Jerome Yau says same-sex marriage is best next step from that court decision.
SIGNIFICANT STRIDES have been made in recent years in terms of equality and inclusion in Hong Kong. Since 2018, our courts had handed down seven rulings that denounced discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation and supported the equal treatment of same-sex couples.
And the most seminal one is none other than the landmark judgement handed down by the Court of Final Appeal in the Sham Tsz-kit case last September. While it did not mandate same-sex marriage, it made it clear that the government could implement it if it wishes to do so. More importantly, it ordered the government to come up with a framework for the legal recognition of same-sex partnerships within two years.
The messages behind these decisions couldn’t be more clear – same-sex couples deserve to live a dignified life, and their relationships should be recognized and protected by law.
THE CLOCK IS TICKING
Same-sex couples are simply seeking access to the institution of marriage that is available to other committed opposite-sex couples – and for the same mix of reasons, from affirming their love and commitment to providing security and protections for their family. Fundamentally, recognizing same-sex partnerships promotes human dignity, social cohesion and traditions.
Now that the clock is ticking, our society would be better off if the government can focus its energy on how to implement the Sham decision rather than wasting taxpayers’ money in flighting same-sex couples’ cases tooth and nail.
While the government enjoys a margin of appreciation in how to implement the decision, it would be wrong and disingenuous to take a piecemeal approach. Such an approach not only violates the letter and spirit of the decision but also invites more litigation. Clearly, this is not sound public policymaking.
The only feasible option is to recognize same-sex partnerships through a comprehensive scheme, and same-sex marriage remains the best solution.
THE SKY WON’T FALL
Same-sex marriage is currently legal in 36 jurisdictions, and in every single one of them, life goes on as usual – the sky hasn’t fallen and there is no collapse of human civilization. Notably, Hong Kong society is ready for same-sex marriage. According to a recent survey, 60% of the population supported it – a record high.
Same-sex couples are not asking for special treatment; they just want to get on with their lives. Any fair-minded person would have no difficulty to feel the pain, anguish and injustice inflicted on same-sex couples because of discrimination.
Traditions are important, as shared customs help bring us together. At the same time, blind adherence to traditions can hold us in bondage and perpetuate injustice. As such, the argument that same-sex marriage would undermine traditions is specious and doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.
‘RESISTING THE FORCES OF CHANGE’
Professor Marco Wan of the University of Hong Kong didn’t mince words when he said “those who argue against same-sex unions in the name of ‘traditional marriage’ participate in what the historian Eric Hobsbawm calls an ‘invention of tradition’, whereby a fantasmatic past is conjured up as a way of resisting the forces of social, cultural and legal change.”
It is also worth noting that the traditional definition of marriage in Hong Kong isn’t that traditional, as Chinese customary marriages were not outlawed until 1971.
“During the Third Cycle of the Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations in 2018, China accepted several recommendations about non-discrimination of LGBT+ people.”
For those who argue same-sex marriage is a Western thing and not compatible with local or Asian values, they better think again. In Asia, Taiwan and Nepal already recognize same-sex marriage, and Thailand is slated to do so later this year as marriage equality bills had already passed the first reading in the country’s House of Representatives last December. In Japan, opinion polls indicate that roughly 70% of the population support same-sex marriage. These facts speak louder than words. After all, love and dignity are universal.
BUILDING A COHESIVE SOCIETY
As to other arguments against same-sex marriage, they are red herrings and fear-mongering. During the Third Cycle of the Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations in 2018, China accepted several recommendations about non-discrimination of LGBT+ people. Therefore, it is absurd to suggest advancing the dignity and equality of LGBT+ people would endanger national security.
We can build a more cohesive and harmonious society by opening the door to same-sex marriage. Also, same-sex marriage not only elevates Hong Kong’s international image but also gives the city an edge when it comes to global talent recruitment.
Fair-mindedness and compassion require us to speak up against hateful and divisive rhetoric in our society. Let’s put an end to sexual orientation discrimination; we can join hands together to build a loving and inclusive society for all.
Jerome Yau is co-founder of Hong Kong Marriage Equality.
Images for this article by Ketut Subiyanto/ Pexels.