Hong Kong | Diversity in focus at same-sex visa appeal hearing

Hong Kong appeals court has started hearing arguments over a case that has raised questions over the city’s allure as a diversity-friendly employment destination.

Lawyers for a British lesbian – named in court documents only as QT – are seeking to overturn a March 2016 ruling supporting the government’s rejection of her application to reside in Hong Kong as a dependent of her partner. Two years earlier, the immigration department had knocked back QT’s application essentially because it didn’t recognize same-sex marriages.

The case has drawn interest from multinational companies as it hinders the ability of international firms to offer gay professionals residency permits for their partners – a privilege available to married heterosexual couples. Leading up to the hearings, 12 financial firms including Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Morgan Stanley had unsuccessfully applied as a group to support QT in her appeal.

The immigration department’s existing policy “deters gay people from coming to Hong Kong,” Dinah Rose, one of QT’s lawyers, said Thursday, the first day of the hearings. Twelve “household names” were prepared to say “this policy is detrimental” in recruiting talent, said Rose, a prominent U.K. barrister.

QT’s case and a separate one involving a Hong Kong civil servant have thrown the focus recently on rights for gay spouses in the city, which doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage. In April, a gay immigration officer won his court battle to have his partner granted the same spousal benefits as his heterosexual colleagues. The government is appealing that decision, the South China Morning Post reported last month.

QT’s saga began when her partner was offered a job in Hong Kong, prompting the couple to move to the city in late 2011, court documents show. The pair entered into a civil partnership in the U.K. in May 2011, which gave them the same rights and responsibilities as a married couple under British law. QT unsuccessfully applied for her own dependent and employment visas at least three times.

The final rejection was in June 2014. Underpinning the immigration department’s decision was its definition of “spouse,” which was “based on monogamy and the concept of a married couple consisting of one male and one female,” the court documents show.

QT challenged that decision in court in May 2015, saying the decision had discriminated against her sexual orientation, and also infringed upon articles in Hong Kong’s constitution. That challenge was knocked back by High Court Judge Thomas Au in March 2016.

Speaking in the government’s defense, lawyer Monica Carss-Frisk said on Friday – the final day of the appeal hearings – that QT’s civil partnership isn’t recognized by Hong Kong law. “QT is seeking the ability and benefits as a married couple,” said Carss-Frisk. “They are actually unmarried.”

The previous day, QT’s lawyer Rose cited a separate government policy introduced last June by which same-sex spouses and civil partners of consulate officials would now be permitted to stay as dependents, the SCMP reported on Friday.

“It illustrates there is no practical or legal difficulty at all in extending” recognition to all same-sex dependents,” the newspaper quoted her as saying. Rose has previously represented News Corp. and Julian Assange, the founder of the WikiLeaks website. Alfred Liu, Darren Boey, Bloomberg

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