By Earl Deng, Progressive Lawyers Group
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Progressive Lawyers Group.
I am a Christian and a lawyer, and I support the legalisation of same-sex marriage.
As a Christian, I understand the solemnity and sanctity of a marriage ordained by God, and the theological views on homosexuality. As a lawyer, my spiritual heart is given to protecting all marginalised members of society. I do not intend to “convert” anyone from their personal beliefs but I would like to explain how I reconcile the two seemingly conflicting views.
I believe that same-sex relationships or marriage should be given secular legal recognition. This is not because my reading of the Bible condones such relationships. It is because legalising same-sex marriage does not harm or undermine my faith. As Richard Posner, a noted American judge and legal scholar has written, “Unless it can be shown that same-sex marriage harms people who are not gay (or who are gay but don’t want to marry), there is no compelling reason for state intervention, and specifically for banning same-sex marriage.”
Another equally important reason is this: A function of the legal system in an open democratic society (which Hong Kong aspires to be) is to protect and guarantee the fundamental freedoms of each individual, and to treat each person with equality, respect and dignity irrespective of their age, sex, race, gender identity, or sexual orientation. This is distinct from God’s law (as set out in the Bible) which functions as a gift of redemption and grace that is freely given to all who believe in the Christian message.
Where minority groups are discriminated against, and the legal system fails to protect them, it tends to reinforce, validate and promote prevailing discriminatory attitudes, with devastating results. Around the world, Christians who live as minorities in such jurisdictions suffer, and continue to suffer, persecution, discrimination and death.
Christian groups have sought to justify their opposition to the legalisation of same sex marriage in various ways. The main reason is theological, in that because the Bible’s text expressly condemns homosexual behaviour as sin, and since sin is harmful, a Christian cannot support sin, and so a Christian must oppose same-sex marriage.
But such reasoning disregards the fact that there is no theological principle that requires secular law to be always consistent with or informed by God’s law. Christians are called to be in this world, but not of this world. When secular law is inconsistent with God’s law, the Bible does not say “Thou shalt amend thy statute.” It does however require Christians to live and act by faith and not by sight, whatever the secular law is.
So for example, whereas secular law protects the freedom of religion (which allows all persons to practice any religion), God commands us to have no other gods. It would be repugnant for Christians to advocate laws to criminalise or ban the practice of all other religions.
Another example: divorce is legally permitted in Hong Kong, but is expressly forbidden in the Bible as it is said that “what God has joined together, let no man tear apart.” Yet many Christians understand and accept that divorce may be necessary as a matter of last resort to end an abusive relationship. The mere fact that homosexual buggery is not a crime between two consensual persons aged 16 years does not mean that Christians can indulge in such acts without God’s judgment.
Therefore, to oppose the legalisation of same-sex marriage because “it is against God’s law” is more than offering a loving rebuke or spiritual admonishment. It is unneighbourly conduct because it validates society’s continuing discrimination and marginalisation of this minority group and it deprives such persons of all the civic rights and status that a married couple enjoys.
I therefore welcome the recent US Supreme Court decision, which follows that of other jurisdictions, because it has given the debate in Hong Kong much needed impetus. While the rest of the world is moving towards granting full legal recognition to sexual minorities, it seems Hong Kong has gravitated to the opposite direction. It took the government seven years to amend the Crimes Ordinance to change the words “21 years old” to “16 years old” for the offence of buggery. The legislative changes to the Marriage Ordinance to allow post-operative transgender persons to marry in their chosen genders have not been implemented despite the Court of Final Appeal’s landmark ruling in 2013.
Dr. York Chow Yat-Ngok, chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission, also remarked in a recent interview that he will probably not see the legal recognition of sexual minorities rights in his lifetime – a far cry from his initial optimism on his appointment in 2013, when he suggested that Hong Kong should implement civil unions for same-sex couples.
The sad reality is that while marriage for same-sex couples is the current hot-button topic, it is only one facet in which LGBTQ persons have suffered discrimination. Equally pressing is the enactment of anti-discrimination legislation for sexual minorities, which the government has refused to entertain.
The road ahead to achieve equality for sexual minority groups in Hong Kong will be long and arduous. It is therefore my sincere hope that we can all engage in this discussion with more compassion, understanding and openness.
Earl Deng is a barrister who tries to slow down the process of erosion observed in Hong Kong through legal practices.