Ten LGBTQ+ couples ‘Pride to Wed’ despite same-sex marriage not being recognised in Hong Kong

Newlyweds at the Pride to Be event on June 25, 2024. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

This report by Hillary Leung was originally published at Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) on July 6, 2024. An edited version is published below as part of a content partnership agreement.

The banquet hall in Hong Kong’s Eaton Hotel has seen countless wedding celebrations, but never quite like this: There was not one newlywed couple, there were 10, and the officiant appeared not standing before them, but on a screen via Zoom, her time zone in the US state of Utah putting her 14 hours behind the city.

Standing beneath a flower arch with the words “Pride to Wed,” the newlyweds took turns exchanging their vows and giving speeches to their partners. Some wiped tears from their eyes as they spoke. Metres from the stage, friends and family members held up their phones to capture the moment.

“Ten years ago, we met in a gay-friendly church…we met at the right place, the right time. We did a lot of happy things, a lot of crazy things. He brought me a lot of happiness and wonderful memories,” one man said of his partner.

The scene was a celebration of love and diversity in a city where same-sex marriage is not recognised. Months ago, wedding planner Next Chapter put out an open call for LGBTQ+ couples who wanted to get married in an event marking Pride Month, with the company making the arrangements and covering all costs.

Newlyweds at the Pride to Be event on June 25, 2024. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Such “fly-free weddings” are one of the company’s offerings, an alternative to making a trip to a country where gay marriage is legal. The ceremonies are performed virtually by an officiant in Utah, where there are no residency or citizenship requirements for marriage licenses.

“In three weeks, we had over 35 sign-ups for the event,” Kurt Tung, who co-founded the company with her wife, explained in Cantonese. “We have people from different parts of the spectrum. We want people to know that we have more than just gay people here. There are also those who are trans, and some who are pansexual.”

‘More than just a piece of paper’

LGBTQ+ activists in Hong Kong have long fought for more rights for its community, with cases often playing out in court. Such battles have seen some landmark victories, including one in 2019 in which the court sided with a gay civil servant applying for spousal benefits and tax assessment, and another in 2021 when it granted equal parental rights for same-sex partners.

Most recently, last September, the city’s top court handed down a landmark ruling giving the government two years to provide a legal framework for recognising same-sex partnerships. The court, however, unanimously held that there was no constitutional right to same-sex marriage in Hong Kong, which means the administration can simply provide a separate partnership registration system rather than changing the marriage law to legalize same-sex marriage. Still, the recognition of same-sex partnerships would allow same-sex couples to access benefits that heterosexual couples have in areas such as housing, taxation and immigration.

With no existing framework and no apparent progress since the September ruling, some of the couples who recently tied the knot at the Eaton Hotel said they never imagined they would get married at all, had they not been able to do it virtually.

Newlyweds at the Pride to Wed event on June 25, 2024. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Dark Chan, 45, said she had previously thought about getting married in Canada, where same-sex marriage is legal. But it would be a significant expense — both in time and cost — for guests to fly over. “Getting married in Hong Kong online means I can get the blessings of my family and celebrate with my friends,” she explained.

Lucas Peng, a 66-year-old Singaporean entrepreneur based in Hong Kong, said getting married was a practical consideration and meant “more than just a piece of paper or a certificate.” With this recognition, he and his husband could now feel more at ease if one of them were to pass away: “This marriage certificate is another form of guarantee or assurance. It gives greater strength to our wills.”

Growing acceptance

Hong Kong’s politicised environment has made all forms of activism harder, including support of LGBTQ+ rights. The Hong Kong Pride Parade, an NGO that used to organise annual colourful marches in the city, has held only indoor bazaars featuring LGBTQ-friendly groups since 2021.

Two of Hong Kong’s largest political parties, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) and The Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions (HKFTU), say same-sex partnerships are a threat to “traditional” family values.

A couple walks down the aisle at the Pride to Wed event on June 25, 2024. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Ahead of Hong Kong becoming the first city in Asia to co-host the Gay Games last year, lawmaker Junius Ho said the “national security apparatus” should bar the city from staging the event, calling campaigns supporting the legalisation of gay marriage an “unhealthy trend” supported by the West.

But Tung, the co-founder of Next Chapter, said she believed society was growing more accepting of same-sex relationships, in part due to media coverage of events, such as this wedding, aimed at raising awareness of the queer community.

Joseph Chen, the director of culture at Eaton Hotel, cited a survey carried out by three universities showing rising acceptance of same-sex couple rights.

“In 2013, just 38 percent [of people supported same-sex marriage],” Chen said. “10 years later, it was over 60 percent. We hope this event can [let] those who oppose understand that everybody has the freedom to love, marry, and have the same benefits as heterosexual [couples].”

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