Hong Kong court rules that same-sex couples hold equal inheritance rights

October 24, 2023 - 4:47 PM
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Participants hold a giant rainbow flag during a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Pride Parade in Hong Kong November 8, 2014. Participants from the LGBT communities took to the streets on Saturday to demonstrate for their rights. (Reuters/Tyrone Siu/File Photo)

 A Hong Kong court dismissed on Tuesday a government bid to deny same-sex married couples’ inheritance rights, saying the refusal of such rights is “an unacceptably harsh burden.”

The ruling by Hong Kong’s Court of Appeal is another small legal victory for campaigners for LGBT rights in the global financial hub this year, a trend that activists say could prompt other jurisdictions in Asia, like Singapore and Japan, to examine their positions on inclusion.

Hong Kong law does not allow same-sex marriage so some couples get married in places abroad where it is legal.

Tuesday’s ruling came in response to a city government appeal in December against a 2020 court decision that same-sex married couples should enjoy equal rights under the city’s inheritance laws.

Judges Peter Cheung, Maria Yuen and Thomas Au said in a written judgment that the city’s secretary of justice, who led the government appeal, “failed in all grounds of appeal”.

“There’s no reason why foreign same-sex marriages cannot be similarly admitted as a matter of principle of equality of treatment,” the judges wrote.

Some activists welcomed the decision but called for more comprehensive reform.

“We have been saying the best option for the government is to implement a comprehensive system to recognize same-sex partnership,” said Jerome Yau, from the group Hong Kong Marriage Equality.

“It is our view that the same-sex marriage is the only proven and permanent solution for Hong Kong,” Yau told reporters.

Hong Kong’s top court in September ruled against same-sex marriage but gave the government two years to form a legal framework for recognizing unions between same-sex couples.

Last week, Hong Kong’s Court of Appeal also dismissed a government bid to deny same-sex married couples the right to rent and own public housing last week, saying that it was “discriminatory in nature” and a complete denial of such couples’ rights.

– Reporting by Jessie Pang; Editing by James Pomfret, Robert Birsel