Gay rights case dropped after govt admits mistake

A gay man has agreed to drop his legal challenge over the government’s refusal to let him identify his late husband after authorities admitted that they had made a mistake.

In December 2020, a government pathologist refused to allow Henry Li to act as an official identifier of Edgar Ng at a public mortuary.

Li and Ng had been married in the UK in 2017.

Li filed for judicial review, arguing that laws and government policies were discriminatory against married same-sex couples by excluding them from handling arrangements for their late spouses.

Li has now agreed to stop the legal action after reaching a consensus with the Secretary for Justice and the Director of Health.

In a hearing on Thursday, High Court judge Anderson Chow said that the authorities made it clear that police and government pathologists do not treat gay couples differently from heterosexual couples, when it comes to allowing them to identify their partners’ bodies.

Chow said the authorities also acknowledged that the Coroner’s Court does not deny the rights of the same-sex spouse of a deceased person.

The judge also said the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department does not have any policy and internal guidelines prohibiting the department from providing services on death arrangements to the same-sex spouse of the deceased.

The court also noted that the Immigration Department does not deny the same-sex spouse of the deceased from applying for a death certificate.

The law firm which represents Li said its client may finally find some relief to know that the authorities will from now on respect the fundamental human rights of same-sex married couples.

But it also said Li noted that the government’s clarified positions do not represent all the current laws or regulations. “Judicial review by its nature may only cover issues on a piecemeal, fact-specific basis. Therefore, the Applicant, Henry, strongly implores the government to proactively and comprehensively review its laws, regulations and policies with respect to after-death arrangements…” the law firm said in a statement.

The Secretary for Justice represented the Director of Health in the case.

In response to RTHK’s inquiry, the Department of Health says it had nothing to add besides the arguments presented in court.