HONG KONG — A Hong Kong court ruled Friday against allowing same-sex unions in the city, a setback for efforts to broaden recognition of such partnerships in Asia.
The decision by Hong Kong’s Court of First Instance upheld a government policy prohibiting such unions. It came five months after Taiwan’s government became the first in Asia to legalize same-sex marriages, stirring hope among many that other places in the region would follow suit.
In the ruling Friday, Judge Anderson Chow wrote that “updating” the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples would lead to “far-reaching consequences” that the court was not prepared to accept.
He said it was “beyond the proper scope of the functions or powers of the court, in the name of interpretation, to seek to effect a change of social policy on such a fundamental issue.”
The judicial review followed a petition filed in June 2018 by a woman, referred to as MK in court documents, who wanted to marry or enter into a legally recognized civil partnership with her partner in Hong Kong, where both were permanent residents. She argued that the government’s denial of same-sex marriage and civil unions was unconstitutional.
“MK’s decision to challenge this discrimination in court was an opportunity for Hong Kong to break away from the injustices of the past and start shaping a more fair and equal society,” Man-kei Tam, the director of Amnesty International Hong Kong, said Friday in a statement. “Sadly, the discriminatory treatment of same-sex couples will continue for the time being.”
A local push for recognition of same-sex unions had gained momentum after two smaller court victories. Hong Kong’s top court ruled in July 2018 that foreign same-sex couples living in the city who had legally gotten married elsewhere were entitled to spousal visas.
Then, in June, it ruled that a gay civil servant and his husband were entitled to spousal benefits and a joint tax return. Advocates celebrated that decision as a small but important win for gay rights, even though the court had explicitly said that the decision was unrelated to the question of whether same-sex couples had the right to marry in Hong Kong.
A 2017 poll conducted by the University of Hong Kong found that more than half of residents surveyed supported same-sex marriage, compared with 38 percent in 2013.
Ray Chan, an openly gay Hong Kong lawmaker, criticized the Friday ruling on Twitter. He said that “certain rights and benefits are accorded to couples who were married or entered into a civil union overseas, but it is impossible for eligible couples to perform a marriage or enter into a civil union in Hong Kong. This is a fundamental flaw.”
Ezra Cheung contributed reporting.