Ruling raises public housing hopes of same-sex couples

Top News | Staff reporter 5 Mar 2020

The High Court has ruled that legally married same-sex couples can rent public housing.

In a landmark ruling yesterday, the court allowed a judicial review by permanent resident Nick Infinger over the Housing Authority's decision to forbid him and his husband, also a permanent resident, from renting a public housing flat.

In squashing the authority's decision, Judge Anderson Chow Ka-ming ordered Infinger's application be remitted for fresh consideration with priority restored to the date when the application was made.

It was the first judicial challenge to affect low-income same-sex couples following high-profile victories by members of the LGBT community against the government in recent years.

Infinger and his husband applied for public housing after getting married in Richmond, Canada, two years ago.

The authority turned them down in September 2018, saying gay couples do not fit the definition of an "ordinary family" under the Oxford English Dictionary, in which "husband" means "a married man especially in relation to his wife." It said his relationship with his partner falls outside the meaning of husband and wife.

Infinger filed a judicial review in November 2018.

In the judgment, Chow said the case is not about whether Infinger has any absolute right to social welfare, but about whether the authority's scheme for public rental housing and its eligibility is discriminatory and unlawful.

"Other than the fact that the applicant's marriage with the partner is between two persons of the same sex, the Housing Authority has not been able to point to any difference between their marriage and other foreign opposite-sex marriages which it would accept for the purpose of meeting the eligibility criterion," he said.

Chow could not see why it would be more administratively inconvenient or difficult for the authority to verify the validity or genuineness of a foreign same-sex marriage than a foreign opposite-sex marriage.

Chow said the authority has failed to prove how much average waiting time may be lengthened.

The authority said it will study the judgment carefully and seek legal advice for follow-up actions.

Rainbow Action, an activist group fighting for sexual minorities' rights, of which Infinger is a member, welcomed the ruling, saying it is good news for the gay community. It said it hopes people in Hong Kong can continue to fight for equal rights of the gay community.

Raymond Chan Chi-chuen of People's Power, the city's only openly gay legislator, also welcomed the ruling and urged the authority not to appeal against the decision.

He called on the government to review the law on same-sex marriage.

But pro-establishment lawmaker Priscilla Leung Mei-fun said the ruling was unfair as it was made upon the personal opinion of the judge on same-sex marriage issue.

She urged the government to file an appeal or it would send a wrong message to the public that same-sex marriage has become legal in Hong Kong.

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