HK’s landmark LGBT ruling on spousal benefits clouded by concerns over implementation

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

Hong Kong’s LGBT community has hailed a momentous court ruling that brought greater economic rights, but the Post found that some gay Hongkongers remain sceptical about just how the changes might be put into practice.

There was rejoicing among LGBT members on Thursday after the Court of Final Appeal ruled against the government and demanded the city grant spousal benefits to gay civil servants and permit same-sex married couples to have their taxes assessed jointly, just like heterosexual couples.

Yet some questioned whether gay civil servants would be prepared to reap these benefits at the expense of “outing” themselves in the workplace. Others bemoaned the fact that the ruling did not cover gay employees in the private sector.

Although married gay couples can soon have joint tax assessments, it is unclear whether they would ever get other tax allowances available to heterosexual couples, including a deduction for cohabiting in-laws, lawyers and activists told the Post.

“Will the government voluntarily say ‘OK, we will also extend it to other tax benefits?’ It is not clear,” said a gay lawyer familiar with tax law who declined to give his name.

You are worried about what your supervisor might think as well as your colleagues

Brian Leung, chief operating officer of Big Love Alliance

After a legal fight that lasted almost four years, senior immigration officer Angus Leung Chun-kwong won his final appeal against the Civil Service Bureau and Inland Revenue Department.

Same-sex marriage is not recognised in Hong Kong in general, except for the purpose of granting spousal visas and that was only after landmark court case last year.

On Thursday, the top court expanded the scope of recognition to include the civil servant’s spousal benefits and tax assessments for gay couples married abroad.

“[I am] very excited and look forward to seeing how the government will put the judgment in place,” said a gay civil servant who requested anonymity.

But Brian Leung Siu-fai, chief operating officer of the LGBT advocacy group Big Love Alliance, said the spousal rights might notbe enough to attract gay civil servants to come forward to claim them.

“You are worried about what your supervisor might think as well as your colleagues,” he said.

Kathryn Weaver, the head of Lewis Silkin Hong Kong, said the ruling would not cover the private sector, although it would place private firms under pressure to match the government’s move.

Mandy Tam Heung-man, a former legislative councillor, said that the court ruling was “wonderful news” and “a milestone achievement for the gay community” as far as tax benefits are concerned.

After the ruling, she said, same-sex married couple would be entitled to a joint tax allowance of HK$264,000.

Before the ruling, their tax was assessed separately and they could not share the allowance of HK$132,000 granted to each.

The lawyer who spoke to the Post about taxes, said the new arrangement would benefit gay couples in which one of the partners earns significantly more because the other could take advantage of the allowance he or she did not spend.

But he said the judgment did not appear to cover the sharing of the tax deduction granted to cohabiting in-laws or the deduction for home loan interest, tax breaks generally available to heterosexual couples.


Category: Hong Kong

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