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Saturday, Nov 27, 2021

Legal check clarifies same-sex rights

Widows and widowers who were in same-sex marriages would be treated as equal to heterosexual couples for funeral arrangements by government departments - as authorities admitted a previous mistake.
A judicial review application was withdrawn after its respondent - the Secretary for Justice and Director of Health - confirmed that government branches and departments would treat same-sex widows and widowers equally without distinction of their sexual orientation, when handling after-death arrangements of their spouses.

The applicant in the legal challenge, Henry Li Yik-ho, was rejected by the government's pathologist as the official identifier of his late husband Edgar Ng Hon-lam, who passed away in December last year.

He filed a judicial review application in March to assert that prevailing laws and government policies discriminate against same-sex married couples by excluding them from handling their spouse's after-death arrangements, which is contrary to the Basic Law and the Hong Kong Bill of Rights.

High Court Justice Anderson Chow Ka-ming said yesterday that Li and the respondents have reached a consensus and agreed to withdraw the judicial review application.

Chow announced the government's position in court yesterday, and clarified the positions of various institutions' policies.

He noted that the police force and the forensic pathology service do not have any policy for distinguishing between opposite-sex and same-sex couples for arranging an appointment with the public mortuary for body identification.

The Coroner's Court also does not have any policy that denies the rights of same-sex spouses of a deceased person, he said.

The rights of same-sex partners to handle cemeteries and crematoria-related arrangements are not excluded under the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department's policy, Chow said.

The department also does not have any policy to restrict providing after-death arrangement services to them, he added.

Chow also said the Immigration Department does not have policies which deny a same-sex spouse the right to apply for a death certificate for a deceased partner.

"Li may finally find some relief to know that the Secretary of Justice and Director of Health will from now on respect the fundamental human rights of same-sex married couples without any ambiguities," Daly & Associates, the law firm representing Li, said in a statement.

Li asks the government to review its laws, regulations and policies with respect to after-death arrangements and other areas.

He added that there are still laws and policies that have not been clarified.

They include whether a same-sex spouse may object or consent to organ donation for medical education or research.

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