International banks and law firms join forces in Hong Kong gay rights case
Hong Kong — More than a dozen large banks and law firms from the US, Europe and Asia are joining forces on behalf of a British lesbian in a landmark case for LGBT rights in Hong Kong.
Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse and Nomura are among 15 financial institutions that have filed an application to intervene in the case of a woman — named in court documents as QT — who sued after the government rejected her application to reside in Hong Kong as a dependent of her same-sex partner.
Hong Kong’s highest court is now considering an appeal filed by the government after a court ruled in favour of QT in September.
The banks and law firms believe "the appeal has no merit, or is based on an unequal treatment that discriminates against same-sex partners," said B Chen Zhu, a Hong Kong-based counsel at Davis Polk & Wardwell, acting pro bono on their behalf. "They all want to express their support for equal treatment for LGBT immigrants."
The intervention comes as foreign chambers of commerce have lobbied Hong Kong’s government to accommodate the spouses of expatriate gay staff in order to maintain its position as Asia’s top financial hub.
Hong Kong, which does not recognise same-sex marriages, in 2016 started allowing same-sex spouses or civil partners of consular officials to stay in the city.
"It’s a challenge for some of our members who want to bring senior staff to Hong Kong but can’t because they are in same-sex relationships," Jacinta Reddan, CEO of the Australian Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong and Macau, said on Thursday.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Wednesday the business community had lobbied her on the issue, and drew comparisons to the diplomatic community.
"They were finding it increasingly difficult to post diplomats to Hong Kong if we do not have some sort of arrangement," Lam said at a Bloomberg Invest conference. "I can only say that we will have to monitor this closely."
Hong Kong’s Department of Justice declined to comment because the proceedings are ongoing. The case is set to be heard on June 5 at the Court of Final Appeal.
Vidler & Co Solicitors, which represents QT, announced the applications by the financial institutions and law firms on its Facebook page on Wednesday without naming them. Human rights group Amnesty International will join the institutions, according to Vidler.
That disclosure caught firms by surprise. They had filed their applications last month and did not want to discuss the matter outside the court room, according to Zhu.
"We did not intend for the interventions to be made public at this stage," he said. "We had intended to honour the confidentiality of the court’s proceedings until the court made a decision to allow us to intervene or not."
If the court were to accept their applications, the financial institutions and law firms would become parties in the case and would be able to present their views to the judges, Zhu said.
A dozen institutions filed a similar application with a lower court last year, including ABN AMRO, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley.
The same 12 have filed again, joined by three more: Barclays, Deutsche Bank Hong Kong Branch and Macquarie Group.
In a separate application, 16 law firms also applied to intervene, including Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, Clifford Chance, and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.