A motion urging the Hong Kong government to look into legal unions for gay couples was defeated in the Legislative Council on Thursday.
The non-binding motion, which was proposed by Hong Kong’s first openly gay lawmaker Ray Chan, was voted down 27-24 after three hours of debate.
The motion asked the government to “study the formulation of policies for homosexual couples to enter into a union so that they can enjoy equal rights as heterosexual couples,” but stopped short of asking for gay marriage specifically.
“No matter if you like sexual minorities or not, they objectively exist… and their need to form unions exists. Whether through administrative or legal means, [the government] must find a way to address that,” Chan said.
Two pro-democracy lawmakers and one pro-Beijing lawmaker each tried to introduce amendments to Chan’s motion but all three were defeated.
Gary Fan’s amendment elaborated on the rights that should be made available to same-sex couples, and Au Nok-hin’s amendment included a call for civil unions.
The amendment proposed by Priscilla Leung said the government “should refrain from shaking the existing marriage institution as a show of respect for the mainstream values in Hong Kong society” and uphold the marriage institution based on “one man, one woman.”
Chan had previously criticised Leung for “hijacking” his motion since her amendment contradicted the intent of the motion, he said.
Pro-Beijing lawmaker support
On Thursday, Chan’s motion received broad support from the pro-democracy camp, with rare support across the aisle from Regina Ip, Eunice Yung and Paul Tse.
During the debate, Ip – who leads the New People’s Party – said she did not oppose Chan’s motion because it only called for the government to conduct a study. Ip also criticised her pro-Beijing colleague Leung for citing Chinese family values in her amendment.
“When Hong Kong became a British colony, for many years the law recognised concubines… So I think [Leung], as one of the many lawyers in LegCo, should be clear on what she is defending. It is a Judeo-Christian concept, not a traditional Chinese family value,” Ip said.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Party’s James To broke rank and voted against the motion, saying that any change to the institution of marriage would have wide-reaching legal effects.
“Maybe because I’m a lawyer, when I hear marriage, I immediately think about the many [legal] relationships,” To said. “So the question is not just between two people.”
Secretary for Mainland and Constitutional Affairs Patrick Nip addressed lawmakers before the debate and said the Hong Kong government was committed to fighting discrimination.
Nip said the government’s stance was to uphold marriage as between one man and one woman, but noted that there was no law against homosexuality.
Ray Chan Chi-chuen
Eddie Chu Hoi-dick
Roy Kwong Chun-yu
Eunice Yung Hoi-yan
Ann Chiang Lai-wan
Ted Hui Chi-fung
“If Hong Kong were to recognise civil unions… it would unavoidably bring widespread and deep impact on Hong Kong’s marriage institution and social norms. I believe that [lawmakers] will agree that this is a very sensitive and controversial issue, and must be dealt with cautiously,” Nip added.
An HKU survey in July showed that over half of Hongkongers support same-sex marriage, a notable increase from 2013 when only 38 per cent supported it.
The last time the Legislative Council had a dedicated motion on LGBTQ issues was in 2012, when then-lawmaker Cyd Ho proposed that the government consult the public on an anti-discrimination law for sexual minorities.
The motion was voted down.