Following is a question by the Hon Cyd Ho and a reply by the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Raymond Tam, in the Legislative Council today (May 30):
Last year, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution, expressing grave concern at acts of violence and discrimination, in all regions of the world, committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. Since 1995, Hong Kong has enacted several anti-discrimination ordinances and set up the Equal Opportunities Commission. However, these ordinances only deal with discrimination against sex, family status, disabilities and races, and Hong Kong has not enacted any legislation with regard to discrimination against sexual orientation, resulting in people of different sexual orientations not being able to build families under statutory procedures and not being entitled to treatment on par with that enjoyed by legally married couples in respect of various aspects such as public housing application, tax allowance for spouses, healthcare insurance, application for entry of family members for family reunion, criminal liabilities and estates handling, etc., and this situation has persisted for quite a number of years. The authorities' efforts in eliminating discrimination against different sexual orientations are limited to including same-sex cohabitation relationship in the Domestic and Cohabitation Relationships Violence Ordinance, publishing the Code of Practice against Discrimination in Employment on the Ground of Sexual Orientation, setting up a working group for case follow-up, and subsidising activities with a small amount of funding. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) of the effectiveness in eliminating discrimination achieved by the Government's efforts to eliminate discrimination against different sexual orientations since 1995;
(b) why the authorities did not draw up a concrete timetable for eliminating discrimination against different sexual orientations in the aforesaid policy areas of housing, taxation, healthcare, immigration matters, criminal liabilities and marriage of same sex couples, etc., and whether any assessment has been conducted to ascertain if the authorities have thus contravened Article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that "all persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law"; and
(c) given the efforts of civil society to promote the acceptance of different sexual orientations in society through popular culture since 1995, whether the authorities conduct any opinion poll on a regular basis to track the changes in people's attitudes as well as explain and highlight to community groups which are against equal opportunities for people of different sexual orientations the obligation and responsibility for Hong Kong to implement the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and observe the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance?
The Government is committed to eliminating discrimination in the community, and promotes the message of equal opportunities through various means, including legislation, issue of code of practice, promotion and publicity activities, and education.
On parts (a) and (c) of the question, the Government launched the Equal Opportunities (Sexual Orientation) Funding Scheme in 1998. An important objective of the Scheme is to provide funding support to worthwhile community projects thereby promoting equal opportunities for people of different sexual orientations or transgendered persons. Over the years, we sponsored a total of 137 projects and programmes, including seminars, workshops, drama and music performances, exhibitions, production of information leaflets and design of websites targetting at teachers, students, social workers, families of people of different sexual orientations and transgendered persons as well as the general public. In addition, we made use of different publicity means such as posters, radio broadcast, various open competitions, roving exhibitions and seminars to bring out the message of equal opportunities for people of different sexual orientations and transgendered persons. That everyone should enjoy equal rights and liberty is a fundamental notion behind the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance.
We note that in recent years, surveys on sexual orientation and gender identity have been conducted by non-government organisations (NGOs). There appears to be increasing open-mindedness towards the subject of homosexuality. This is no longer a taboo or an "unspeakable" subject. In particular, the younger generation tends to have a higher level of acceptance of people of different sexual orientations and transgendered persons. Moreover, there is a declining trend of discrimination against homosexuals in the workplace. All these indicate that education and publicity efforts of the Government and NGOs bear fruit.
On part (b) of the question, public views are still divided on the question as to whether legislation should be enacted to prohibit discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation. Some members of the community urge the Government to legislate against discrimination in this area as soon as possible, while some others raise objection having regard to various considerations like religious beliefs and family values. As the Government pointed out in its report submitted in September 2011 to the United Nations Human Rights Committee in the light of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, at this stage, self-regulation and education, rather than legislation, are the most appropriate and pragmatic means of addressing discrimination in this area. The Government will however continue to monitor public opinion closely.
In the area of employment, the Government issued the Code of Practice against Discrimination in Employment on the Ground of Sexual Orientation in 1998 to facilitate self-regulation on the part of employers and employees in eliminating discriminatory practices in employment and to promote equal employment opportunities among all persons, irrespective of their sexual orientation. The Government has already committed itself to following the practices set out in the Code.
The laws of Hong Kong and policies in a number of different areas are premised on the system of monogamous marriage between a man and a woman. At present, same sex marriage is not recognised in Hong Kong. Therefore, in certain policy areas, the treatment of same sex partners is not the same as married persons. The treatment of unmarried partners of opposite sexes is also not the same as married persons. This cannot be interpreted simply as discrimination against people of different sexual orientation. As to whether same sex marriage should be recognised, this involves fundamental values and complicated matters and it is unlikely that the community could come to a consensus on this in the near future.
Since the Reunification, the United Nations Human Rights Committee has twice examined the reports submitted by the HKSAR Government in the light of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Committee has never mentioned that the HKSAR Government has violated Article 26 of the Covenant. In fact, the Committee noted with appreciation the initiatives undertaken by the HKSAR Government to promote non-discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
In formulating policies, the Government seeks to balance the views of different parties. When the society is still severely divided on the issue of homosexuality, tenaciously pushing forth legislative proposals in this area will only lead to arguments, divisions and conflicts in the society. This may not be in the best interest of people of different sexual orientations and transgendered persons. Before the time is ripe to take the legislative route, we believe that efforts should continue to be made to promote the concept of equal opportunities through public education and publicity with a view to fostering in the community a culture of mutual understanding and tolerance.
Ends/Wednesday, May 30, 2012