Standing on the side of bigotry

May 26, 2017 18:01
Wrong side: (From left) Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen and legislators Priscilla Leung and Junius Ho are opposing a court ruling that would enhance the rights of LGBT people. Photos: Reuters, HKEJ

The Hong Kong government has, not for the first time, chosen to stand on the wrong side of history by trying to overturn a rather modest court ruling that would enhance the rights of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

By coincidence this move coincided with a landmark ruling from Taiwan’s high court that paves the way for Taiwan to become the first Asian country to embrace the right of same-sex marriage.

Instead of joining the advanced countries of the world in seeking to eliminate discrimination between people with different sexual orientations, the government has chosen to side with a group of bigots and religious fanatics who are busy peddling a fake "family values" campaign to keep the SAR firmly in the nineteenth century.

They belong to a coalition claiming to represent 27,00 individuals, 60 civic groups and five lawmakers and have been celebrating the government’s decision to fight a court ruling that would give a gay civil servant’s same-sex partner (married overseas) access to the same spouse benefits of other married couples.

In fact, this court decision is highly limited because it specifically excludes the applicant from also securing a married person’s tax benefits. However, it is a chink in the armor of discriminatory legislation infuriating the usual suspects.

One of the more rabid advocates of discrimination, legislator Priscilla Leung, said she feared that the court decision would lead to the collapse of the marriage system, and just to prove that her ignorance is complete, she suggested that it could also lead to the legalization of polygamy.

Honestly, where to start with this nonsense?

However, Leung is not alone as her fellow pro-government legislator Junius Ho, who rarely passes up an opportunity to air his ignorance, predicted that the ruling would lead to chaos in society.

This same bunch of bigots also whipped themselves up into a lather when the HSBC headquarters building temporarily had its landmark stone lions clad in the rainbow flag of the LGBT movement.

Yet, admittedly limited, public polling evidence from a poll conducted by the Chinese University for the Equal Opportunities Commission suggests that the bigots are in a minority and that most people recognize the need to end discrimination against LGBT people.

However, the bigots have some very powerful allies in high places, most notably among the senior ranks of the civil service where officials pride themselves on their strict adherence to Christianity, not of course the type of Christian belief that embraces tolerance and love but the bitter kind of practice that insists on a moral code to be applied to all citizens regardless of their beliefs.

This pro-discrimination lobby is so powerful that it even succeeded in blocking the decriminalization of homosexual acts between consenting adults until 1991, way after most other societies had done away with laws that were responsible for making the lives of many (especially) male homosexuals a misery.

Britain passed a law back in 1967 and the then colonial governor Murray MacLehose saw no reason why Hong Kong should not follow suit; however, he was persuaded not to act by a powerful civil service cabal.

Fast forward to 2017 and the incoming Chief Executive Carrie Lam says she does not want to touch this issue because it is controversial and she would prefer to wait until consensus has been achieved.

Let’s be clear what this means – consensus will never be achieved. Indeed, the history of social reform against discrimination ranging from the horrors of racial discrimination to abolishing the inferior legal status of women and a myriad of laws discriminating against people on grounds of their faith have all met with stiff resistance.

Reform only comes about when there is courageous and determined leadership. Lam has to decide whether she is on the side of bigotry or courage.

Meanwhile, even in Taiwan there has been disappointment over the attitude of President Tsai Ing-wen who advocated same-sex marriage as part of her presidential campaign but went quiet as pressure mounted for action to back her pledges.

It has taken a ruling in Taiwan’s high court to force the government to act and, to be fair, there is no indication that it will not do so.

What Taiwan will discover, as has been discovered in countries as varied as South Africa, Brazil and, yes, even conservative old Britain, is that once the law has been put in place it has rapidly gained widespread acceptance and this allegedly controversial issue quickly fades from the public discourse.

The bigots in Hong Kong kind of know this and that is why they fear reform, precisely because they understand that once it is enacted there will be no turning back and they will have lost forever.

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Hong Kong-based journalist, broadcaster and book author. His latest book, Defying the Dragon – Hong Kong and the world’s largest dictatorship, will be published by Hurst Publishers in early 2021.