The Hong Kong Court of First Instance ruled Friday against a lesbian woman who sought constitutional protections for same-sex marriage.
The plaintiff, identified in the case as MK, a Hong Kong permanent resident, brought this case in hopes of having Hong Kong grant recognition of same-sex marriage under the island’s constitution, or, in the alternative, to have a legally recognized framework made available for same-sex couples such as civil unions. MK argued that denying the right of marriage to same-sex couples was a violation of their constitutional rights and that the failure to provide a recognized legal alternative such as registered partnerships or civil unions is also a violation of their constitutional rights. In particular she relied on various articles of Basic Law within the Hong Kong Bill of Rights, which states “All Hong Kong Residents shall be equal under the law” and “The rights recognized in this Bill of Rights shall be enjoyed without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”
The judge reviewed the case but ultimately concluded that current Hong Kong law only protects opposite-sex marriage. The judge found that this was the understanding with which the original law was written and he did not see fit to change it. The judge stated that updating judicial interpretation should be done sparingly and with caution, particularly where doing so has far reaching consequences. The judge also stated that an interpretation should not be changed by the court if the existing language cannot bear the new interpretation. The judge left the door open to future a future legislative change and suggested that social pressure could build to a point requiring the court to intervene, but he could not conclude that in this case.
Amnesty International released a statement calling the decision a “bitter blow” and a “serious setback” for the LGBTI communities in Hong Kong. This decision comes as Hong Kong residents continue to protest on the streets of the island calling for autonomy and human rights protections.