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Hong Kong court rules in favour of same-sex couple on tax

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In a major victory for the LGBT community in Hong Kong, the Court of Final Appeal has ruled in favour of gay immigration officer Angus Leung, who challenged the government after the Secretary for the Civil Service refused to grant spousal benefits to his British husband.

The landmark decision was handed down on 6 June.

And in what will undoubtedly have implications for HR professionals in Hong Kong, the court also approved another application from Leung that he and his husband be jointly taxed.

Leung married his husband Scott Adams in New Zealand in 2014. Hong Kong’s Civil Service Bureau refused to change Leung’s marital status or grant benefits – such as medical coverage – to his husband. Leung filed a judicial review in 2015.

Leung originally succeeded in his challenge against the Civil Service Bureau at the Court of First Instance, but lost when the bureau successfully sought to have the ruling overturned at the lower appeal court.

But in a unanimous decision last Thursday, Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma – and four other judges – determined that both Hong Kong’s civil service and Inland Revenue Department failed to justify their policy towards Leung – and by extension other same-sex married couples.

“How is it said that allowing Mr Adams medical and dental benefits weakens the institution of marriage in Hong Kong? Similarly, how does permitting the appellant to elect for joint assessment of his income tax liability under (tax law) impinge on the institution of marriage in Hong Kong?” The judges wrote, in their 32-page determination.

“It cannot logically be argued that any person is encouraged to enter into an opposite-sex marriage in Hong Kong because a same-sex spouse is denied those benefits or to joint assessment to taxation.”

The judges concluded that heterosexual marriage would not be undermined by extending employment and tax benefits to same-sex married couples.

For more on the implications of this landmark decision in the Hong Kong workplace, make sure to read the feature article on the case by a legal expert in the upcoming issue of Human Resources magazine.

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