Hong Kong court upholds decision against sodomy laws

Editor’s note: The text of the judgement (issued 20 Sept 2006) by Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma can be seen here. The court reference is CACV317/2005.

Source: International Herald Tribune/Associated Press
19 September 2006

Hong Kong court upholds decision against saying sodomy laws

Hong Kong – The Hong Kong government lost an appeal Wednesday of a High Court ruling against a law that says men younger than 21 who engage in sodomy should be jailed for life. A panel of three Court of Appeal judges upheld the original decision issued by the lower court in August 2005, the court’s ruling said.

The laws were first challenged by William Roy Leung, a then 20-year-old gay man who argued he should be able to have a loving relationship without the fear of imprisonment. In last August’s ruling, High Court Judge Michael Hartmann sided with Leung, saying the laws against sodomy infringed on the rights of privacy and equality for gay men.

While gay men caught engaging in sodomy when either is under 21 face life imprisonment, heterosexual couples can legally have sex at age 16. The government appealed the August ruling after it stirred an uproar among Christian groups, who have vigorously campaigned against gay sexual rights.

On Wednesday, the Court of Appeal dismissed the government’s appeal.

“At one stage, societal values dictated that buggery was some form of unnatural act, somehow to be condemned and certainly not condoned. These values have changed in Hong Kong,” Chief Judge Geoffrey Ma said in the judgment. “I cannot see any justification for either the age limit of 21, or, in particular, for the different treatment of male homosexuals compared with heterosexuals,” Ma said.

Leung did not appear in court Wednesday, but said in a statement issued by his lawyer: “This is a victory not only for me and the gay community in Hong Kong. “It’s a victory for all of us in Hong Kong, gay and straight alike who all have fundamental human rights,” he said. Leung’s lawyer, Michael Vidler, said he was satisfied with the result.

“It’s the second time the government has comprehensively lost in this case,” he told The Associated Press. “If a law is unconstitutional and discriminatory, the sooner it is changed the better,” he said. Wednesday’s ruling does not erase the law — the legislature would need to remove it from the statutes first — but it does make it technically unenforceable, Vidler said.

Connie Lam, a spokeswoman at the Security Bureau, said the Department of Justice was carefully studying the judgment. She declined to say whether the government would further appeal the case.

* * *

Source: Independent Online
16 October 2006

Hong Kong drops challenge against gay age of consent

The Hong Kong government Monday caved in to a challenge against its gay sex laws, effectively lowering the homosexual age of consent from 21 to 16. The decision followed a shaming government defeat in the courts when it vainly appealed against a judicial review’s findings that the law governing the age of gay consent was unconstitutional.

In a short statement, the Security Bureau said it would not seek to reverse the court’s decision. “After considering all the relevant factors, the government decided not to appeal the judicial review,” it read.

In a city that only decriminalised homosexuality in 1991, gays and lesbians had faced life imprisonment if they had performed sodomy before the age of 21. However, heterosexuals who had sex before 16 faced just a five-year sentence.

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