A Hong Kong judge tasked with ruling on whether to allow civil union partnerships for LGBT couples ruled on Tuesday he did not require churches and other conservative bodies to help him define marriage.
Lawyers for the Catholic diocese of Hong Kong – the city’s the largest church – asked the High Court for permission to join the litigation as an interested party, arguing it would provide a more rounded picture of Christian marriage than the secular government.
It also raised concerns the outcome might lead to “reverse discrimination” and have a chilling effect on churches.
It was joined by religious pressure groups the Family School Concern Group and the Society for Truth and Light, which said any ruling could have future implications for sex education.
They were countered by more liberal churches and religious bodies. A transgender activist also petitioned the court, saying the ruling would have implications for her civil rights.
After hearing their assertions, Mr Justice Anderson Chow Ka-ming refused to let the groups join the litigation, saying their argument, which was not based on law but social views, would not be pertinent.
“It needs to be emphasised the court cannot arbitrate on social, moral, religious or theological issues, and does not decide cases based on such a consideration,” he wrote.
“The court’s only proper role … is to determine the application based strictly on legal considerations.”
The legal challenge has been brought by a lesbian, known only as MK.
Hong Kong generally does not recognise same-sex marriages – except for spousal visas, made possible by a landmark ruling by the city’s top court last year.
In the present case, MK argued the lack of options for her to form a civil union with her partner impinged on her right to privacy and equality, amounting to a breach of the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, and the Bill of Rights.
She filed the court action against the government in June last year.
With the case expected to be heard on May 28, barrister Thomas Wong Wai-kit, for the Catholic Diocese, said the church wanted to provide a more “rounded picture” of Christian marriage.
He spoke of possible backlashes the church might face in the wake of a ruling in favour of same-sex civil unions.
“One possibility is the [church] might be required not to discriminate against same-sex marriages and would have to officiate them …. in our place of worship,” he said, adding he would also like to cite examples of chilling effects on religion from elsewhere in the world.
Justin Ho, representing both The Society for Truth and Light and the Family School Concern Group, said that the former wished to provide research from public polls it had conducted while the latter wanted to highlight the concerns of parents over the effect such a ruling would have on sex education in schools.
Represented by Wilson Leung Wan-shun, four pro-gay churches and bodies – Kowloon Union Church, Blessed Ministry Community Church, the Hong Kong Christian Institute and the Queer Theology Academy – argued they should also be given a chance to offer their views if the court permitted the Catholic Diocese to do so.
Transgender woman Joanne Leung Wing-yan said, through her barrister Timothy Parker, the current arrangement prevented her from marrying a woman. Parker argued she could illustrate for the court the plight of transgender people in the city.
Chow ruled that while Leung’s case raised a unique perspective, “she had already made her choice and enjoyed the right to live and be recognised in her assumed gender”.
Chow concluded Leung did not endure any hardship different from that of MK. Nor was she married to a woman before sex reassignment surgery which could have led to her marriage being rendered null and void.