'End housing bias against gay couples'

Local | Sophie Hui 20 Apr 2021

Housing Authority should amend Home Ownership Scheme rules to rectify discrimination against gay couples, the high court heard yesterday.

But the Housing Authority told high court judge Anderson Chow Ka-ming that changing the rules would significantly increase the number of HOS applications.

The applicant, Edgar Ng Hon-lam, married his Henry Li Yik-ho in the United Kingdom in 2017 and bought a second-hand HOS flat in 2018.

But the authority said only heterosexual marriage partners are considered "family members," and the couple must pay a land premium if they want to add Li as an occupant of the unit.

Ng then filed a judicial review to challenge the policy, saying it runs against human rights laws and the Basic Law.

However, Ng died after committing suicide last year and his partner is continuing the legal battle in his place.

Senior counsel Pao Jin-long, who represents the couple, said the current Housing Authority policy discriminates against same-sex couples. The authority also does not have evidence that proves the number of housing applications would significantly increase if it changes its policy.

He said article 37 of the Basic Law states "the freedom of marriage of Hong Kong residents and their right to raise a family freely shall be protected by law" and does not prohibit same-sex marriage.

Pao argued that both heterosexuals and homosexuals face the housing shortage problem and changing the current policy against same-sex couples would not have much impact on housing applications.

After Ng and Li got married, they had given up their public housing unit and purchased a second-hand HOS unit using a green form. The public housing unit had been released for other people to apply.

Pao said the authority's policy of not recognizing a same-sex spouse as a family member will have a deterrent effect on married and unwed homosexuals as they do not know whether their partners will be recognized after buying a HOS unit.

He cited a comparative study by a professor, Joseph Lau Tak-fai of the Chinese University's Jockey Club School of Public Health and Primary Care, which showed that only 0.6 percent of the Hong Kong population are homosexuals.

Of these, only around 1.8 percent of gays and 7.2 percent of lesbians are married, showing that married homosexuals comprise a small part of sexual minorities, Pao said.

Senior counsel Abraham Chan Lok-shung, who represents the Housing Authority, said the authority only "indirectly" prioritized the cases by heterosexual families. It did not discriminate against homosexual married families.

He also said the housing policy should be formulated by the government so that heterosexual couples buying HOS flats create a conducive environment for the facilitation of the birth of children after setting up a family, which is in line with a sustainable population policy.

Chow said he would deliver the judgment on another day after hearing arguments from both sides for six hours in court yesterday.

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