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Published: 02:18, January 21, 2022 | Updated: 10:44, January 21, 2022
Consider culture and history in same-sex marriage debate
By Junius Ho and Kacee Ting Wong
Published:02:18, January 21, 2022 Updated:10:44, January 21, 2022 By Junius Ho and Kacee Ting Wong

We owe Mr. Jerome Yau Ming-lock, a well-known advocate of same-sex marriage, many grateful thanks for his comments on our article (“Hosting gay games brings more long-term risks than benefits,” dated Sept 1, 2021, published by China Daily Hong Kong) and his attempts to promote a more accurate understanding of the LGBT+ issues in his article in China Daily, dated Nov 10, 2021 (“Prejudice, discrimination undermine social cohesion”). 

His argument in favor of legal protection against discrimination for people of different sexual orientations is a persuasive one and deserves our support. In fact, the Bill of Rights Ordinance prohibits discrimination on a variety of grounds, including “other status”. In Leung TC William Roy v Secretary for Justice (2005), this has been interpreted to include sexual orientation (also refer to Secretary for Justice v Yau Yuk Lung (2007).

In spite of our support for statutes against discrimination on sexual orientation, we think it is an unreasonable leap for some radical members of the LGBT+ community to promote same-sex marriage as a special right in Hong Kong. The level of social acceptance of LGBT+ people is restrained by traditional Chinese culture in Hong Kong. In particular, the attitude toward same-sex marriage is filtered through the prism of traditional culture and religious beliefs.

It is far from the truth to say that the real threat to social cohesion does not come from some radical LGBT+ people who openly challenge the traditional Confucian heterosexual-marriage system in Hong Kong. There is no way at this point to tell whether any attempt to advocate legalization of same-sex marriage will lead to social polarization or instability in the territory. What has become uncomfortably clear is that same-sex marriage remains a divisive issue in the US.

The US Supreme Court in Obergefell v Hodges (2015) overturned all states’ laws banning same-sex marriage on the ground that they are unconstitutional. Since the landmark Obergefall case, many conservative Americans have remained opposed to same-sex marriage. The backlash against the above watershed decision came into the open a few years later. Without doubt, there is a high social price to pay for legalizing same-sex marriage.

Although gay men and lesbians are now free to marry in all 50 states in the US, some states have taken countermeasures to challenge the new marital order. For example, Indiana became the first of several states to pass a Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which allows stores, restaurants and other businesses to turn down requests for, say, hosting a gay wedding or baking a cake for a gay wedding because of the owner’s religious beliefs. In other words, the shop owner is entitled to refuse service to same-sex couples.

It is not correct to use a societal consensus reached in some Western countries to arbitrarily determine, or serve as evidence of, what the societal consensus in Hong Kong is

Mr. Yau has reminded us of the story of The Passion of the Cut Sleeve, concerning Emperor Ai of the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 24). Emperor Ai was one of the most famous Chinese emperors to have engaged in same-sex sexual activity. Wu Cuncun, a famous scholar of the University of Hong Kong, deserves great credit for exploring long-ignored dalliances and homosexual activities in late imperial China. She argues that male homoeroticism played a central role in the cultural life of late imperial Chinese literati elites. Nevertheless, these alternative extramarital affairs had not undermined the solid foundation of the Confucian heterosexual marriage system in these periods.

Nor should we be distracted from the unassailable fact that procreation has traditionally been regarded as the most important filial duty of Chinese couples. As long as this familial obligation is not neglected, sexual relations between two men is tolerated. In Homoerotic Sensibilities in Late Imperial China (2004), Wu Cuncun states clearly that homosexuality does not violate Confucian ethical system as long as it respects the boundaries of propriety assigned to it — the hierarchies of the social pact.

Harsh criminal codes against same-sex sexual intercourse were enacted by the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) emperor in 1546. These tough laws raised a large question as to whether common people, who represented the mainstream Chinese culture, were willing to breach the law and engage in homosexual activities. Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) society also emphasized strict obedience to the heterosexual marriage system. In 1740, an anti-homosexual decree was promulgated, defining voluntarily homosexual intercourse between adults as illegal. It seems that homosexuality-denying culture has been implanted in the subconsciousness of the majority of Chinese people in the past 500 years.

Generally speaking, the Christian and Muslim communities in Hong Kong are also opposed to same-sex marriage. According to Choi Chi-sum, general secretary of the Society for Truth and Light, we should attach great importance to fundamental Christian family values, including the belief that marriage is for men and women, not same-sex couples.

There is no dispute that some countries have avoided social division since the implementation of same-sex marriage laws. With a long liberal tradition, the Netherlands is a role model in carrying out this social experiment. In fact, it was the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. But other countries are not as lucky as the Netherlands because of cultural differences. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act has raised a lot of controversy in the US. Some states have remained locked in a host of legal disputes arising from the enactment of the above act.

Although same-sex marriage became legal in Taiwan in May 2019, we should not turn a blind eye to the large number of Taiwan residents who turned up in the “referendum” in November 2018 to voice their objection to same-sex marriage. There is no societal consensus in Taiwan concerning same-sex marriage. To make matters worse, the rivalry between the Kuomintang and Democratic Progressive Party has added complexity to this complicated issue.

The vast majority of Chinese people in Hong Kong have been brought up to believe, and do believe, that the Confucian heterosexual marriage system is sacred. Local Christians and Muslims share the same view. It is not correct to use a societal consensus reached in some Western countries to arbitrarily determine, or serve as evidence of, what the societal consensus in Hong Kong is. Any reckless attempt to promote same-sex marriage in the territory will endanger social stability.

Junius Ho Kwan-yiu is a Legislative Council member and a solicitor.

Kacee Ting Wong is a barrister, part-time researcher of Shenzhen University Hong Kong and the Macao Basic Law Research Center, and co-founder of the Hong Kong Coalition and Together We Can.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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