Government can’t justify discriminatory treatment, lawyer for gay HK civil servant argues in final appeal over spousal rights

08-May-2019 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:00 AM Print This Post

The legal battle for a gay immigration officer in Hong Kong over spousal benefits entered its final chapter on Tuesday as his lawyer argued in an ultimate appeal that the government could not justify its discriminatory treatment.

Addressing top judges at the Court of Final Appeal, barrister Karon Monaghan QC, for Angus Leung Chun-kwong, attacked the heads of the Civil Service Bureau and Inland Revenue Department for merely running in circles in their reasoning for refusing to grant Leung his rights.

“It has to be justified. It’s not enough to say marriage is special and unique,” she said.

Leung, 37, took the government the city’s biggest paymaster to court in late 2015 after the secretary for the civil service refused to grant spousal benefits to his husband, Scott Adams. The couple married in New Zealand in 2014.

Leung also challenged the tax authority for not allowing him to make a joint declaration with Adams, as in the case of heterosexual couples.

He originally succeeded in his challenge against the Civil Service Bureau at the Court of First Instance, but lost when the bureau sought to overturn that ruling at the lower appeal court. All lower courts ruled in favour of the Inland Revenue Department. As the city does not recognise same-sex marriage, the government had asserted that by conceding to Leung’s requests, it would undermine the nature of marriage in Hong Kong between “one man and one woman”.

It has to be justified. It’s not enough to say marriage is special and unique

Karon Monaghan QC

But Leung’s counsel Monaghan hit back against such views on Tuesday.

She said the government had failed to explain why there was a “rational connection” between the protection of marriage and whether to grant Leung the rights he sought.

She said authorities, by far, could say that those rights had always been granted exclusively to heterosexual married couples, since the status of marriage was “special and unique”.

“It is the way it is. It has always been what it is. But that is not a reason for excluding a same-sex couple,” she said. “That is entirely circular.”

By granting what her client demanded, the British barrister said, the government was merely doing no more than acknowledging the “character and characteristics” of Leung’s relationship with Adams, which could be found in the form of lawful marriage recognised in the city.

Born and raised in Hong Kong, Leung joined the Immigration Department in 2003 and tied the knot with Adams on April 18, 2014 in New Zealand. Adams was a Briton but has been living in Hong Kong for years.

In a previous interview with the Post, Leung revealed that the two bonded over diving and adventure. He said he was prompted to speak up when he saw the government’s conflicting views on the city’s LGBT community on one hand, it encourages the public to be accepting while, on the other, it denies rights.

A graduate of the University of Hong Kong, Leung also said the fight for LGBT rights was a local issue, contrary to the belief of some that it was mostly led by expatriates.

The hearing continues on Tuesday afternoon.


Category: Hong Kong

Print This Post

Comments are closed.