News / Asia

Asian Rights Groups Laud Obama on Gay Marriage

Participants hold a giant rainbow flag to symbolize lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights during a parade in Hong Kong, November 2011. (file photo)
Participants hold a giant rainbow flag to symbolize lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights during a parade in Hong Kong, November 2011. (file photo)
Ivan Broadhead

HONG KONG - President Barack Obama’s public announcement of support for same sex-marriage in the United States is being hailed by advocacy groups in Asia, where discussion of gay rights has only slowly moved into the public domain. Roddy Shaw, chairperson of the Hong Kong NGO Civil Rights for Sexual Diversities spoke with VOA about Obama’s statement, and the challenges of the gay rights movement in Hong Kong and China.


Q: Roddy, as an advocate for gay and lesbian rights in Hong Kong, in China, what’s your analysis of President Obama’s message today about same-sex marriage?
 

A: "Well, I think he has really moved forward and I think that is a great step and it’s a correct step for the United States. Many of the policy decisions he has made have tried to give every US citizen the same rights and the same opportunities. In fact this move is also important in the run-up to the presidential election later this year. He definitely made a ‘differentiation’ from his challenger from the Republican camp, Mitt Romney - a diehard opponent of same-sex marriage. I think public sentiment in the U.S. among younger voters particularly, are very supportive of same sex marriage. This position of President Obama will put him in a better position for the younger voters. "


Q: Do you see it as a brave step by President Obama, or a risky step?


A: "Well, I think it’s a brave step and then a risky step at the same time because the political right [wing] are still quite conservative on the issue of same-sex marriage. This could be risky... but I do think it’s the right thing to do as president and also as a Democrat."


Q: You talked about the right wing in the United States; we live in a conservative part of the world, as well. Can you tell us a little about the movement for gay rights in Hong Kong?


A: "I would say that I agree with you, that we are living in a conservative part of the world, but in quite a different way. We are conservative culturally speaking. Definitely the general cultural disapproval of homosexuality in our so-called 'Traditional Culture' makes it very difficult for gays and lesbians. But the conservatism in the U.S., it’s mainly religion. But in Hong Kong and in China, it’s less because of religion because the Christians, Christianity is still a minority [group] in Hong Kong, even though their religious leaders are very vocal. And if you look at the surveys and studies carried out by the government and other NGOs and academics, you find out that there is a very high approval rate of equal treatment for gays and lesbians. But culturally speaking, people still view homosexuality as a menace or a taboo. But definitely that is going to change as the young generation take the centre stage of the political arena. So I don’t think Hong Kong has as much baggage as some parts of the U.S. where they are really religious and really evangelical. "


Q: Is that a legacy of Confucian culture, or is it more of a modern phenomenon?


A:" Well, it’s a mix of the traditional culture and also the impact of British colonial rule. The main obstacle, at least legally speaking, was the law, the sodomy law or the buggery law left over by the British from its colonial rule. And in recent years the Hong Kong courts have fought to repeal those. And in fact those buggery laws have been successfully repealed in recent years.
 

The most important thing that the government has to do is legislate for non-discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. And the government has not moved an inch since 1996 - the first time that a bill was introduced in the Legislative Council to protect gays and lesbians from being discriminated against - basing their decision not to legislate on what they called 'popular opinion'."


Q: Can you tell listeners about what challenges the gay and lesbian community faces in Mainland China?


A: "Well, in Mainland China, I think the gay and lesbian community, they face a very different reality. Culturally speaking, they [Mainland Chinese] are even more conservative than Hong Kong, I think. A lot of gay men are hiding; concealing their sexual orientation. They actually get married with women so they can get housing, get minimal social benefits, social protection. Because, in China, if you’re not married you don’t get public housing, you don’t have a whole set of benefits - and the same holds true for Hong Kong as well. That makes it even more difficult in the coming-out process.


But, on the bright side, homosexuality has never been a criminal offense in China, not in China, not in Taiwan - has never been a criminal offense. It is only in Hong Kong where the British brought their buggery laws into Hong Kong many years ago.

It’s not a criminal offense, but it is something that people frown upon and people don’t talk about it. There’s so little visibility in the community, even though it’s legal, totally legal to have a relationship - it’s totally legal to be gay. But it’s still taboo culturally speaking. It’s something you keep within the four walls of your bedroom. So I think that culture is very deeply rooted in China and that makes it difficult.


The past years, we’ve seen a lot of progress. The media, universities, schools, they’ve started to talk about homosexuality and that makes the issue more visible and more talked about in the public arena "


Q: Do we have any politicians in Hong Kong or China who have come out?

 

A: "I’m afraid not…" [Laughs]


Q: You mentioned Britain and colonial rule of the British in Hong Kong. My understanding is that homosexuality was only decriminalized in Hong Kong in 1991, whereas it was decriminalized in Britain in 1967. So how do we explain that time lag?


A: " If we trace back the history of colonial rule, in 1991, in the run-up to the Handover of Hong Kong back to China, the then Hong Kong government was very eager to make sure that the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights was incorporated into Hong Kong law to become domestic law. And that eventually became the Bill of Rights of Hong Kong. And that has enjoyed a constitutional status and later, because of the Basic Law [Hong Kong’s mini-constitution], became part of the constitutional framework of Hong Kong. It is still part of the framework. And because of the timing of that, the Hong Kong government actually looked at all the laws in Hong Kong to see which laws could be potentially contravening the Bill of Rights, and they found that the Criminal Code was one of those examples, so they repealed it quite quickly in 1991, at about the same time they incorporated the ICCPR into Hong Kong law.


But, if you ask about the discrepancy, the many years, it has to do with, I think, generally, the democracy, the democratic development of Hong Kong. Because Hong Kong did not have so-called representative democracy until the late 1980s.


Partly that was triggered by the Tiananmen Square massacre. So up until the late 80s and early 90s, the then Hong Kong government under British colonial rule had no intention of incorporating anything relating to basic human rights nor democracy per se. And they had no regard about what the public felt about certain issues or whether they would consider certain things as basic human rights… you know - the lagging behind of democratic development. "


Q: Do you have high hopes of achieving the legalization of same-sex marriage in Hong Kong?


A: "In fact, if you look at past successes in the past few years, there have been five litigations against the government, of violating rights of gay and lesbian individuals because of some of the policies or administrative decisions. Of the five litigations, we won four of them. Basically, the courts of Hong Kong have upheld the right of equal treatment for gays and lesbians and that led to the repeal of the law, of the sodomy law, [was responsible for the introduction of] the equal age of consent. So my hope still lies in judicial activism; still lies in judicial review. It is through judicial activism that the government will be bound to reconsider the urgency of the issue of non-discrimination, equal opportunity legislation as well as the issue of same-sex marriage.


In fact, there have been a few cases being filed with the Legal Aid department previously, where the Legal Aid department has given a favorable opinion for the right to same-sex marriage of same-sex couples. It is just for personal reasons that the cases did not go to court. But if it were to go to court, I am very confident that the court would rule in favor of the right of same-sex couples to get married in Hong Kong."


Q: So you’re saying same-sex marriage is more feasibly achieved through judicial interpretation of the existing equal opportunities legislation rather than through direct legislation by the government?


A: " Precisely. And maybe the result could be that, because of a court ruling, the legislature has to change its law. So that’s another possibility. To a certain extent the two are interlinked."

 

Video: Obama discussing his support for same-sex marriage

x
Video: Obama discussing his support for same-sex marriagei
|| 0:00:00
X
May 09, 2012 9:14 PM
In ABC TV interview, President Barack Obama says he believes same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.

Video: Obama discussing his support for same-sex marriage


 

You May Like

Multimedia US Nurse ‘Cured of Ebola,’ NIH Says

Nina Pham, Texas nurse who treated first Ebola patient in US, received no experimental drugs; WHO expects vaccine surge in 2015 More

Video Islamic State Militants Encroach on Baghdad

Iraqi capital not under ‘imminent threat,’ US military says, amid worries about foothold More

Video Hong Kong Protesters Focus on Holding Volatile Mong Kok

Activists say holding Mong Kok is key to their movement's success, despite confrontations with angry residents and police More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid