Hong Kong court refuses to recognise overseas same-sex marriages

(Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A Hong Kong court refused on Friday to recognise same-sex marriages conducted abroad, dealing a blow to the city’s LGBT+ community in a case brought by a gay local councillor who got married in New York.

Same-sex unions are illegal in the semi-autonomous Chinese city, but gay couples have won small recognitions in some spousal benefits such as visas and housing in recent years as a result of a series of legal challenges.

Jimmy Sham, a local district councillor who married his male partner in New York in 2013, had demanded the city recognise all gay marriages registered overseas, arguing that refusal to do so was “highly unfair and discriminatory”.

He asked the court to declare that city laws were violating his constitutional right to equality, but the High Court threw out his application on Friday on the grounds that it was “unsustainable as a matter of law”.

“The applicant’s attempt in the present case to achieve complete parity of legal recognition of foreign same-sex marriages and foreign opposite-sex marriages is too ambitious,” judge Anderson Chow wrote in his judgment.

Still, in a separate case the same court on Friday ruled in favour of another Hong Kong gay couple, who married in London, granting them inheritance rights similar to heterosexual couples.

The two cases were the latest in a series of challenges to laws that discriminate against LGBT+ people in the former British colony, which last year upheld a ban on same-sex civil partnerships.

Sham has said gay couples are often unclear about their rights as authorities refused to recognise their rights.

“This is unjust,” the pro-democracy councillor said outside court on Friday, according to local television. “Why are gay people seen as too ambitious when we fight for our rights?”

Rights group Hong Kong Marriage Equality expressed disappointment with the decision in Sham’s case, and said the city was “dragging our feet” when it comes to LGBT+ equality.

“The court missed its chance to advance the legal status of overseas married same-sex couples,” it said in a statement.

Hong Kong – which returned to Chinese rule in 1997 - decriminalised homosexuality in 1991, and the city hosts an annual Pride parade and lively gay scene.

Reporting by Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit