Speaking at a public hearing of the Legislative Council's Panel on Welfare Services on Saturday, Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Matthew Cheung Kin-chung reiterated that the proposal was "only relevant to the policy area of domestic violence, and it enables same-sex cohabitants to apply under the ordinance to the court for an injunction order against molestation by their cohabiting partners." He stressed that the inclusion is to provide civil remedies to the victims concerned and does not confer any legal status to same-sex relationships.
Although the Democratic Party had pledged in the legislature election last September that all their legislators would vote in favour of the bill, Wong Sing-chi, a Protestant legislator, has publicly opposed the bill. Himself and several other Catholic and Protestant legislators of the Democratic Party have also asked to be exempted from voting for the current bill.
Wong said in a radio interview on Jan 3 that although he does not oppose giving protection to same-sex couples, he objects to using the word "family" in the Chinese version of the law as it might lead to the legalisation of same-sex marriage. He suggested using "home" or "household" instead of "family."
His suggestion has been rejected by the government countering that the scope of "household" is too broad given that violence involving some people living under the same roof, such as between landlords and tenants, has never been regarded as domestic violence.
Cheung explained: "The proposal is made after taking into consideration the intimate relationship between same-sex cohabitants, as in the relationship between heterosexual cohabitants, which might entail similar special power interface, dynamics and risk factors and render the victims reluctant to report to the Police the abusers' acts of violence and seek redress under the criminal legislative framework."
The Domestic Violence Ordinance, which was enacted in 1986, covers married couples and heterosexual cohabitants. In August last year, an amendment to the ordinance extended coverage to former spouses or cohabitants, as well as immediate and extended family members.
Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun of Hong Kong said in a press statement on Jan 5 that inclusion of same-sex couples in the law would "definitely lead to a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of the concepts of marriage and family, thereby undermining the foundation of our society." He also warned that "distorted concepts of marriage and family will bring about other serious consequences."
The cardinal further commented that the Democratic Party has taken the "undemocratic" action of not allowing Wong to vote according to his conscience, according to the Union of Catholic Asian News web site.
A number of Legislative Council Members urged the Administration to further extend the scope of the ordinance to include same-sex cohabitants when the Domestic Violence (Amendment) Bill 2007 was introduced into the Legislative Council to extend the scope of the ordinance to cover former spouses and former heterosexual cohabitants. The Administration then undertook to further amend the ordinance to include in its coverage same-sex cohabitants in the 2008-09 legislative session.
A coalition of LGBT groups in Hong Kong including Hong Kong Women's Coalition, Hong Kong Ten Per Cent Club, Rainbow Hong Kong and Rainbow Action has set up an online petition, click here to sign.
Activists at Democratic Party's office protesting certain legislators' opposition of the amendment which seeks to include same-sex cohabitants in the Domestic Violence Law