Time to recognize gay rights

Updated: 2013-11-29 06:59

(HK Edition)

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Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) chairman York Chow believes this is the right time for the Hong Kong to enact laws to protect people of alternative sexual orientation and to address issues of gender identity.

The issue came to the fore again, after the Court of Final Appeal (CFA) ruled last May that transgendered people are entitled to the right to get married. The top court stayed its ruling for 12 months to allow time for the government to amend the related marriage ordinances.

"The CFA judgment also asked the government to deal with the gender identity problem," Chow said. "Hong Kong is a comparatively conservative society. Yet we should not undermine the rights of minorities. They are not bad people. Many countries in the world recognize same-sex marriage already. "

Chow points out that in some countries, same-sex marriages are recognized without any requirement on the participants to undergo sexual reassignment surgery.

The government has a lot of work to do, he reckons. Whilst the law must state conditions under which people may change their gender, it must also stipulate whether transsexuals may marry. If people want to change their gender after they get married, will the change nullify the marriage?

At the Legislative Council meeting held on October 30, lawmaker Chan Chi-chuen, who has openly admitted to being gay, moved a motion urging the government to legalize same-sex marriage in Hong Kong under the authority of the CFA ruling.

Chan's motion, however, failed to win the support of the majority of legislators.

Chow believes Chan's motion was premature in the absence of a mainstream consensus - same-sex marriage remains a highly controversial issue in Hong Kong. Chow's primary role in the matter is seeing to the enactment of laws that prohibit discrimination against sexual minorities.

He said: "It is necessary for Hong Kong to have a law to protect gay rights in the wake of the global trend and the CFA judgment. Now is the right time to have more discussions on this. Still, we have been often criticized by the United Nations and the international community for not doing enough to protect sexual minorities, regardless of Hong Kong's position as an international city.

"It depends very much on the government's view of homosexuals and lesbians. I don't think the government is unwilling to consider the matter. In fact it has formed an advisory group to look into ways to eliminate discrimination against sexual minorities."

Chow is a Christian, but his religious belief will not impede him from initiating legislation to eliminate discrimination against gays. He argues that the Church does not oppose recognition of gay rights.

He believes his former colleague and fellow Christian, Raymond Tam, the secretary for constitutional and mainland affairs, feels the same way and will not let his religious views influence formulation of public policy. (Tam heads the policy bureau overseeing the Equal Opportunities Commission.)

"Perhaps my work helps him (Tam) to handle this problem," Chow mused. "Since he is now heavily involved in the 2017 universal suffrage election, he will spend more time (on gay rights) when the universal suffrage issue is settled in 2016."

Chow maintains that the pursuit of gay rights is not a popular topic among people of his age, yet it has strong support among young people. If the government enacts a law protecting gay rights, it will win greater support from the young generation.

"Their pursuit merits respect and attention," he said of the young people. "If the government makes laws to protect gay rights and save gay people from discrimination, it will definitely earn credit and not losing it, and I know not too many people are against this."

Meanwhile, the EOC plans to conduct surveys prior to undertaking in-depth public consultation on the recognition of gay rights. Chow says the surveys, including group discussions, will commence in the first quarter of 2014 and carry on for about six months.

"We will then submit a report to the government-appointed advisory group in around June 2015 and press the government to decide on the legislative plan," he said with a smile.

Time to recognize gay rights

(HK Edition 11/29/2013 page8)