In a landmark verdict, Hong Kong's top court has granted a spousal visa to a lesbian woman. This comes despite the fact that the Chinese territory currently does not recognize gay marriage or same-sex civil unions.
A British lesbian won the right to work and live in Hong Kong with her partner after the city-state's Court of Final Appeal ruled on Wednesday that foreign same-sex couples were entitled to equal treatment under immigration law.
The court ruled that the woman, identified only as QT, should be granted same dependent visa that spouses and children of other foreigners working in Hong Kong receive.
QT entered into a civil partnership in Britain in 2011 and moved to Hong Kong with her partner the same year.
"The ability to bring in dependents is an important issue for persons deciding whether to move to Hong Kong," the court said in a unanimous decision, adding that employment visas are issued to people that have "the talent and skills deemed needed or desirable."
"Such a person could be straight or gay," the court ruled.
Although a lower court ruled in favor of "QT" in September, the Department of Immigration took the case to the Court of Final Appeal.
The head of the immigration department "failed to justify the discriminatory treatment," the ruling said.
QT's lawyer described Wednesday's ruling as a landmark because it was the first time the city's highest court had ruled in relation to the rights of same sex couples.
The former British colony, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997, maintains its Western-style legal system. However, pro-democracy activists have protested against Beijing's increasing political control over the city in the past few years.
"Hopefully it [Wednesday's verdict] will pave the way to change," Michael Vidler, QT's lawyer said.
International financial institutions like Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley supported QT's bid to stay with her partner on a spousal visa, saying diverse hiring practices were crucial to attracting top talent in Asia's financial hub.
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Advancement of gay rights
In a statement released by her lawyer after the verdict, QT said she felt "joy" and "in some small part helped advance the rights of LGBTI people in Hong Kong."
Jan Wetzel, a senior legal adviser at Amnesty International, hailed the Hong Kong's court decision in an email statement: "The judgment is milestone for Hong Kong and a watershed moment for the rights of LGBTI people across Asia."
"The government must now follow up and the end the discrimination same-sex couples face in all walks of life," he added.
shs/msh (AFP, AP, dpa)