Here’s a news piece for the ages: the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal made a unanimous ruling in the landmark QT case — and a lesbian in a UK-registered civil union was given the right to a dependent visa in Hong Kong. The Court of Final Appeal (which, as its name suggests, is the final court to hear the case) found that the failure of the Department of Immigration to issue the visa was discriminatory, with no rational basis. Just in case it wasn’t clear: this is a HUGE deal for LGBT rights in Hong Kong.
The judgment is in striking contrast to the Court of Appeals’ decision last month in the Leung case, which actually permitted the government to deny marital benefits to a long-time civil servant in a foreign same-sex marriage. The basis for the ruling? It was all in the name of protecting “traditional marriage”.
This got me thinking further about the supposed conflict between traditional values, be they religious or cultural, and LGBT rights in the context of Hong Kong, where a vocal minority of religious groups have led the anti-LGBT rights campaign.
Last month, I had the opportunity to provide a “lesson in the street” to the AIESEC Youth Conference held at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. A group of aspiring secondary and university students spent an hour listening to me talk about the status of LGBT rights in Hong Kong, and asking questions. The first two questions were both from earnest students seeking to reconcile their instinctive support for equality with what they believed their own Christian faiths taught them about same-sex marriage and the rights of LGBT people. One young woman was a Catholic and the other a Protestant.
Their questions echoed the focus of local anti-LGBT campaigners like Roger Wong, father of democracy campaigner Joshua Wong. But whereas Roger seems to have already reached the implacable conclusion that LGBT rights and traditional values — religious or otherwise — are in an inherently contradictory death match, these youth were asking genuine questions with still open minds.
And what I told them — and, indeed, what I believe — is that in Hong Kong, people of genuine religious faith and LGBT people have more to gain by seeking common ground rather than enmity. People of faith wish to practice their religion free of government intrusion and free from discrimination on the basis of their beliefs. LGBT people wish to live their lives similarly free from discrimination and be free to love, and ultimately marry, who they want. The commonality is the freedom to organize one’s own life around what is fundamental and important to that individual.
Beyond that, all minorities, be they religious minorities or sexual minorities, should have redress for discrimination. While Hong Kong’s bill of rights protects both religious and sexual minorities from discrimination by the government, it is noteworthy that among the anti-discrimination ordinances applicable to the private sector in Hong Kong today, neither religion nor sexual orientation, gender identity or expression are protected categories. This should change.
Both religious people and LGBT persons should have redress if they are fired or denied housing due to their status. There are difficult questions that can arise when these rights appear to conflict. Should a church be free to require that its priest or minister be heterosexual? What about the groundskeeper? Should an LGBT person be required to rent his or her flat to an individual with a belief system that views same-sex sexual activity as sinful? What if it is a room in a flat where the LGBT person is living?
What is required at the end of the day is a focus on individual freedom and human rights for all, regardless of religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. The students got it. When we talk about the importance of preserving the rule of law in Hong Kong, the same ultimate freedoms are needed to protect both LGBT people and people of faith. The QT case is a step in the right direction. Anti-discrimination ordinances would be another good step. So would marriage equality.
Sanity Check with Marc Rubinstein.
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