Hong Kong’s LGBT+ community urged the territory’s new top judge to work with them, as they campaign for the recognition of same-sex marriage, and to stop widespread discrimination.
Hong Kong’s chief executive last week chose Justice Andrew Cheung Kui-nung to be the next chief justice of the court of final appeal, although the appointment – which is due to begin in January – needs to be endorsed by the Legislative Council.
Cheung has previously ruled against transgender and same-sex couples in several legal challenges.
LGBT+ activists said it was vital not to underplay the importance of courts as the key means to bring about change or challenge policy.
“In Hong Kong, there are very limited ways to advocate LGBT+ human rights,” Tommy Chen, spokesman at advocacy Rainbow Action, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Wednesday.
“Since 1997, filing a judicial review has become a main way LGBT+ people to advocate for our rights.”
Both the Hong Kong Bar Association and the Hong Kong Law Society welcomed the appointment, with the latter praising Cheung’s “distinguished record” of judicial service, since being appointed a district judge in 2001.
“Cheung is widely recognised for his dedication, integrity, professionalism and leadership,” the Society said in a statement, adding it was confident he would continue to “head an independent judiciary upholding the rule of law”.
A spokesman for Hong Kong’s judiciary declined to comment.
Hong Kong – which returned to Chinese rule in 1997 – decriminalised homosexuality in 1991, and the city has an annual pride parade and a lively gay scene.
It does not, however, recognise same-sex marriage, and LGBT+ activists voice concerns about widespread discrimination.
Several legal challenges have resulted in gradual progress for LGBT+ people, including the right to obtain visas for dependants and spousal benefits for same-sex partners.
Last month, a Hong Kong court ruled that married same-sex couples have the right to apply for public housing.
Billy Leung, a Hong Kong LGBT+ activist, who has previously been involved in anti-discrimination court challenges, said there were some concerns that Cheung’s appointment could “tip the scale of progressiveness” in LGBT+ legal cases.
But Doriane Lau, China Researcher at Amnesty International, said she did not see a direct impact of the appointment on the LGBT+ community.
“The government’s refusal to recognise rights of LGBT+ people and its inaction to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity are the main reasons for the community to challenge government policies via the judicial route,” she said.
-Michael Taylor @MickSTaylor – Thomson Reuters Foundation