British same-sex couple granted spouse visas in landmark Hong Kong legal battle

Victory has been a long time coming for couple who entered civil partnership in the UK in 2004
Hong Kong’s highest court on Wednesday ordered immigration officials to grant spousal visas to a same-sex expatriate couple, ending a closely watched years-long legal battle.
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Since 2014 a British national, known in court as QT, has been trying to apply for a spousal visa to accompany her partner, also a British national, who works in Hong Kong. The couple, who entered a civil partnership in the UK in 2004, have been repeatedly denied a spousal visa for QT on the basis that Hong Kong does not recognise same-sex unions as marriages.

In a landmark decision last year, Hong Kong’s court of appeals overturned a lower court’s ruling to uphold the immigration department’s judgment. The government then appealed that decision in Hong Kong’s court of final appeal in a case that became a rallying point for LGBT advocates, as well as the city’s financial industry.

On Wednesday, the court upheld the appeals court ruling, judging the immigration department’s behaviour as discriminatory and unjustified.

“Today’s ruling by the Court of Final Appeal affirms what millions of us in this wonderful and vibrant city know to be true, that discrimination based on sexual orientation, like any other form of discrimination is offensive and demeaning,” QT said in a statement read out by her lawyer after the ruling.

“Once again this court has said loud and clear that equality before the law applies to all persons in HK, including the LGBTI community,” she said.

The court of final appeals cautioned that the decision did not change the definition of marriage, which it defined as heterosexual and monogamous. “By definition, it is not a status open to couples of the same sex,” the court said in its ruling.

Advocates celebrated the decision on Wednesday as a step towards gay rights in Hong Kong, which decriminalised homosexuality in 1991.

“This judgment is a milestone for Hong Kong and a watershed moment for the rights of LGBTI people across Asia,” said Jan Wetzel, senior legal adviser at Amnesty International.

“The government must now follow up and end the discrimination same-sex couples face in all walks of life … No one should experience discrimination because of who they are, or who they love,” Wetzel said.
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