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Hong Kong court sides with same-sex couple over inheritance rights

HONG KONG — A Hong Kong court on Tuesday upheld a decision granting same-sex married couples equal inheritance rights, handing the LGBTQ community its latest victory even as the city’s civil society comes under more pressure from Beijing.

Same-sex marriage is not allowed in Hong Kong but there has been progress, albeit slow, on LGBTQ rights in recent years through the judicial system. Since Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong in 2020 that clamped down on all forms of protest, the courts are one of the last avenues Hong Kong citizens have to push for change.

In the latest example, Hong Kong’s Court of Appeal on Tuesday ruled that the city’s existing inheritance laws are “discriminatory,” dismissing the Hong Kong government’s arguments against Henry Li and his late husband Edgar Ng.

Li and Ng, who were married in the United Kingdom in 2017, sued the Hong Kong government in 2019 over inheritance laws that would have barred Li from automatically inheriting the couple’s apartment if Ng died.

The following year the court ruled in favor of Li and Ng, deciding that same-sex married couples should enjoy the same legal protections as heterosexual couples. The government appealed the judgment in October 2020, and Ng died by suicide two months later following years of depression.

Li has since been able to remain in their apartment, although the Hong Kong government still has three weeks to appeal that.

Hong Kong court hands rare victory to advocates of same-sex unions

In its judgment released Tuesday, the court said the inheritance laws were an “unacceptably harsh burden on same-sex couples lawfully married overseas,” and that it has a duty to “severely” scrutinize whether differential treatment based on grounds of sexual orientation is reasonable and necessary.

Li welcomed the decision. “I hope the government will respect today’s judgment and at long last give Edgar the respect and dignity he’d always deserved,” he wrote on Facebook. “We all deserve the same dignity.”

Li had another win in the same court last week, when judges dismissed the government’s effort to prohibit same-sex married couples from jointly owning apartments in public housing buildings.

There have been a string of incremental wins for same-sex couples and LGBTQ rights advocates in the courts this year.

In September, the city’s top court ordered the government to give same-sex couples some form of legal recognition. Same-sex couples who married abroad are now entitled to some spousal benefits when it comes to taxes and housing.

That same month, another court sided with a lesbian couple who argued that both women should have parental status over their child born through in vitro fertilization. Previously, the Hong Kong government only recognized the woman who carried the baby as the mother of the child.

In February, the top court ruled that surgery was not necessary for transgender people to change their gender on their identity cards.

Hong Kong’s top court rules surgery is not needed to register gender change

Suen Yiu-tung, associate professor of gender studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said the government should “take a proactive approach to review the injustices that same-sex couples have faced in society due to legal exclusion,” following the landmark ruling on same-sex unions in September.

“Otherwise, we are only going to see further lengthy and expensive court battles in the future,” Suen said.

Still, Hong Kong is coming more under the control of Beijing, which has aggressively restricted the space for LGBTQ and gender rights activism within China. Hong Kong LGBTQ activist Jimmy Sham has been detained for more than two years for violation of the national security law.

The city’s annual gay pride parade has also been canceled since 2020, and in August, Hong Kong’s first queer radio show was canceled after 17 years on the air.

However, Hong Kong is scheduled to host the 11th Gay Games, which was delayed a year due to the pandemic, next month.


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