Same-sex couples in Hong Kong scored a landmark victory on Tuesday when the provincial government announced they will now be entitled to spousal visa rights.
A spokesperson for the semi-independent city-state claimed the government will recognize same-sex marriages performed abroad in weighing visa applications. To be eligible for a dependent visa, the partners of Hong Kong nationals will still have to meet the standard immigration requirements.
Applicants will also have to show proof of the relationship and that they will have the ability to support themselves financially, among other criteria.
“The policy allows those who are able to provide care and financial support to their dependents to sponsor their non-local dependants to come to reside in Hong Kong,” federal authorities claimed in a statement, adding that the new policy ensures local companies can “attract and retain people with the right talent and skills to come to and remain in Hong Kong.”
More than 30 multinational firms, including the investment banks Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, lobbied Hong Kong to change its visa regulations following a groundbreaking verdict from the Court of Final Appeal in July.
Weighing in on the case of a British national denied a dependent visa after moving to Hong Kong with her partner, the top court ruled the policy is “irrational.”
In a unanimous decision by a five-judge panel, justices claimed it was “hard to see how the Policy’s exclusion, on grounds of sexual orientation, of persons who were bona fide dependent civil partners of sponsors granted employment visas promoted the legitimate aim of strict immigration control.”
As a condition of the verdict, the Court of Final Appeal mandated the government revise its spousal visa guidelines.
The new policy — which will take effect Wednesday — is the latest in a series of historic victories in Asia, a continent where progress on LGBTQ rights was until recently scant. Earlier this month the India Supreme Court struck down a 158-year-old law criminalizing sodomy. The ruling has encouraged advocates in countries with similar policies to lobby their governments to revisit the colonial-era sodomy bans.
Meanwhile, Taiwan is poised to vote on marriage equality in November after a 2017 constitutional court ruling paved the way for same-sex unions.
Although LGBTQ advocates in Hong Kong celebrated the government for taking a step toward equality, many stressed that the new guidelines should nonetheless be viewed with a healthy amount of skepticism.
“But do not forget that the change was only made after the government lost the… judicial review and was forced to comply with the court judgment,” said the organization group Big Love Alliance in a statement posted to social media. “There is still a long way to go for marriage equality in Hong Kong.”
Raymond Chan Chi-chuen, the country’s first openly LGBTQ lawmaker, called on the government to continue its forward momentum on equality.
“The government should not drag its feet in reviewing other social policies,” Chan said in comments cited by the South China Morning Post. “For example, the right of same-sex partners to apply for public housing. Must the government wait until after it loses another case in the courts?”
Although Chan plans to call for a debate over the issue in the Legislative Council, authorities signaled they had no intention to budge further on the marriage issue.
“The revision has nothing to do with legal recognition of same-sex civil partnership, same-sex civil union, ‘same-sex marriage,’ opposite-sex civil partnership or opposite-sex civil union in Hong Kong,” the government stated. “Nor should there be any expectation of such plan by the Government. The revision does not compromise the Government’s position in any legal proceedings.”
“[A] valid marriage under Hong Kong law is heterosexual and monogamous and is not a status open to couples of the same sex,” the spokesman added.
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