Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Wednesday 20 September 2006

Boost for gay equality in Hong Kong

The Hong Kong SAR government has lost an appeal it lodged because of a ruling in the High Court in August 2005 against a law that homosexual sex ('sodomy' as it is called in the law) where one of the men is younger than 21 is punishable by life imprisonment, whereas for heterosexuals the age of consent is 16. A panel of three Court of Appeal judges has upheld the earlier High Court ruling and dismissed the governmnet's appeal. Chief Judge Geoffrey Ma is quoted as saying in his judgement:

"At one stage, societal values dictated that buggery was some form of unnatural act, somehow to be condemned and certainly not condoned. These values have changed in Hong Kong.

"I cannot see any justification for either the age limit of 21, or, in particular, for the different treatment of male homosexuals compared with heterosexuals."

It is gratifying to observe that the judiciary in Hong Kong remains as impartial as it has mostly always been in its interpretation of the [validity of] the laws it is asked to hear cases under.

Hong Kong law is based in some respects on an older variant of English law, indeed when I first lived in Hong Kong in the early 1980s homosexual sex of any kind was completely illegal, just as it had been in the UK pre-1967. At that time the 'story' was that to relax the law, as had gradually happened in the UK, would offend the sensibilities of the Chinese population of Hong Kong, although when I lived there again in the early 1990s, after the law had indeed been relaxed, the sky had not fallen in (surprise, surprise - Ed.). The truth about where the opposition comes from to granting equality to homosexual relationships, in terms of the age of consent, confirms what I had always suspected; that in Hong Kong, just as in most other parts of the world (for example Scotland or the United States, to take two random examples), visceral objections always come from the same place - church and other Christian groups. It has become increasingly difficult to maintain the 'story' that the opposition results from feelings within the Chinese community, specially with the recent and increasing tolerance toward homosexual relationships just across the border in the rest of China.

As the plaintiff's lawyer in the original High Court case has pointed out, the law nevertheless remains in force in statute, even though the Court of Appeal ruling denies the government the ability to enforce it.

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