Landmark Ruling in Hong Kong Partially Recognizes Overseas Same-Sex Marriages

Landmark Ruling in Hong Kong Partially Recognizes Overseas Same-Sex Marriages

In a groundbreaking decision, Hong Kong’s highest court has partially approved an appeal by an LGBTQ activist seeking recognition of overseas same-sex marriages.

This ruling concludes a five-year legal battle initiated by Jimmy Sham, a prominent democracy and LGBTQ rights advocate.

For the first time, the Court of Final Appeal in Hong Kong has directly addressed the issue of same-sex marriage in this Asian financial hub.

The Court’s Verdict

Chief Justice Andrew Cheung and a panel of judges, including Permanent Judges Roberto Ribeiro, Joseph Fok, Johnson Lam, and Non-Permanent Judge Patrick Keane, ruled that the marriage freedoms outlined in Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, were limited to opposite-sex marriages.

However, the judges recognized the crucial need for same-sex couples to access an alternative legal framework that fulfills their basic social requirements.

They also emphasized the importance of providing a sense of legitimacy to same-sex couples, dispelling any notion that they belong to an inferior class whose committed and stable relationships should go unrecognized.

Implications and Potential Changes

This historic ruling has far-reaching implications, as lawyers and activists believe it could compel the city’s government and institutions to implement changes.

It may pave the way for the establishment of a new legal regime that grants same-sex couples smoother inheritance and insurance options, as well as tax allowances and other rights.

Beyond Hong Kong, this decision could influence other Asian financial hubs, such as Tokyo and Singapore, to draft more inclusive laws.

These cities are increasingly viewed as magnets for global talent sought after by multinational corporations, including banks and technology giants.

Government’s Deadline and the Case of Jimmy Sham

The panel of judges suspended a declaration that the government’s absence of an alternative legal framework had violated Mr. Sham’s rights.

They granted the government a two-year window to make further submissions in this regard.

Jimmy Sham, the 36-year-old activist at the center of this case, married his partner in New York in 2013.

Despite twice losing in lower courts, he launched his bid for Hong Kong to recognize overseas same-sex marriages in 2018.

He has faced additional challenges as one of the 47 democrats charged under the Beijing-imposed national security law due to his involvement in an unofficial primary election held in 2020.

Sham has been in detention since March 2021.

Campaigners’ Response and Upcoming Gay Games

Esther Leung, campaign manager of the Hong Kong Marriage Equality group, expressed her thoughts on the ruling, stating that while it is a “major step forward,” it still falls short of the ultimate goal: full inclusion in marriage.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong is set to host Asia’s first Gay Games in November, an event that has the potential to boost the city’s lackluster post-COVID economic recovery.


This partial approval of recognition for overseas same-sex marriages by Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal marks a significant milestone in the ongoing struggle for LGBTQ rights and marriage equality in the region.

While the decision does not achieve complete inclusion, it represents a crucial step towards acknowledging and addressing the legal rights and social needs of same-sex couples in the city and may have broader implications throughout Asia.

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