Hong Kong court overturns landmark LGBT spousal benefits ruling

HONG KONG (Reuters) - A Hong Kong court ruled on Friday that the husband of a male civil servant was not entitled to spousal benefits, overturning a landmark lower court ruling in a setback for the city’s LGBT community.

Marriage is legally defined as a monogamous union between a man and a woman in Hong Kong, where the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community’s fight for legal rights has received support from multinational companies.

Angus Leung Chun-kwong, a senior immigration officer, filed a judicial review in 2015 against the government after it denied medical and dental benefits for his spouse, Scott Paul Adams. The couple were legally married in New Zealand in 2014.

In April last year, the High Court ruled that the couple were entitled to spousal benefits, but rejected their bid for a joint tax assessment as a married couple.

The government and couple appealed the court decision.

On Friday, Court of Appeal Judge Jeremy Poon wrote that Hong Kong laws did not recognize same-sex marriage and prevailing social values played a “highly significant” role in the court’s decision to overturn the benefits ruling.

“If spousal benefits and joint assessment, which have been long associated closely and exclusively with marriage, were made available to homosexual couples, it would per se undermine, or be perceived by many to undermine, the status of marriage,” the judge wrote.

The government was not an ordinary employer but “the custodian of Hong Kong’s prevailing socio-moral values”, Poon said.

The Court of Appeal upheld the lower court’s ruling that the couple’s taxes could not be jointly assessed.

Leung said he and his husband were “deeply disappointed” and considering an appeal to the Court of Final Appeal, the city’s top court.

“It is a huge back step for equality in Hong Kong,” Leung said in a statement.

“We are not asking for special treatment, we just want to live our life fairly and with dignity.”

Human rights lawyer Mark Daly, who represented Leung, said he feared the judgment could “embolden anti-LGBT paranoia”.

The Civil Service Bureau and the Inland Revenue Department said they welcomed the ruling.

Hong Kong, though part of China, enjoys a high degree of autonomy under a “one country, two systems” formula.

On Monday, the Court of Final Appeal will hear one of the city’s highest-profile LGBT rights cases involving a British lesbian, known as QT, who sued the government for not issuing her spouse a visa.

The government filed an appeal after QT won the case at the Court of Appeal in September.

Fifteen global banks, including Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, as well as 16 international law firms, had applied to intervene in the case and support QT, but the application was dismissed by the Court of Final Appeal.

Reporting by Venus Wu; Editing by Darren Schuettler