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A Hong Kong court upholds a ruling in favor of equal inheritance rights for same-sex couples

A Hong Kong court on Tuesday upheld a ruling that favored the granting of equal inheritance rights to same-sex couples, in the latest victory for the city’s LGBTQ+ community.

The decision by the Court of Appeal rejected the government’s motion against the ruling that said the differential treatment facing same-sex married couples under two inheritance laws in the city constitutes unlawful discrimination.

Justice of Appeal Thomas Au wrote that it is “an unacceptably harsh burden” on Hong Kong same-sex couples married overseas given the denial of entitlements under the laws.

“The differential treatment based on sexual orientation is apparent,” his colleague, Justice of Appeal Peter Cheung, wrote in his judgment.

Currently, Hong Kong only recognizes same-sex marriage for certain purposes such as taxation, civil service benefits and dependent visas. Many of the government’s concessions were won through legal challenges in recent years as the city has seen a growing social acceptance of same-sex marriage.

The ruling is a victory for the city’s LGBTQ+ movement and is expected to have a strong impact on the lives of same-sex couples from Hong Kong who married overseas.

Last week, the same court upheld two earlier rulings that supported the granting of subsidized housing benefits to same-sex married partners. In September, the city’s top court ruled in a landmark decision that the government should provide a framework for recognizing same-sex partnerships.

The ruling on Tuesday involved a years-long battle fought by Henry Li and his late partner, Edgar Ng. After they married in London in 2017, Ng bought a subsidized flat as his matrimonial home with Li. He was concerned that if he died intestate, his proprieties would not be passed to Li. He passed away in 2020 after suffering years of depression.

Nongovernmental organization Hong Kong Marriage Equality called on the government not to appeal the judgment. With the recent court rulings, it is clear that the right thing to do is to recognize same-sex partnerships in a comprehensive manner, it said.

In a statement issued by his solicitors, Li also said he hopes the government will respect the judgment.

“It added insult to injury – that the government repeatedly argued in open court I am not Edgar’s husband and should be treated as a stranger to him, while I was still mourning,” he said.

Kanis Leung, The Associated Press