A residential building is pictured in Hong Kong, China, October 19, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

KUALA LUMPUR – A Hong Kong court on Wednesday ruled that married same-sex couples have the right to apply for public housing, in a move that could make it easier for LGBT+ people to live in one of the world’s most expensive cities.

Hong Kong does not recognize same-sex marriage, but the case was brought by permanent resident Nick Infinger, who married his partner in Canada in 2018 and applied for public housing.

The government rejected their application under the “ordinary family” category because they are not husband and wife.

But on Wednesday, a court ruled the refusal was unconstitutional and said low-income same-sex couples had the same need for affordable housing as opposite-sex couples.

“This judgment highlights yet another example of the discriminatory and unconstitutional government policies that LGBT+ people in Hong Kong face every day,” Infinger said in a statement.

It was the latest in a series of challenges to laws that discriminate against LGBT+ people in the former British colony, which last year upheld a ban on same-sex civil partnerships.

The challenges have resulted in gradual progress for LGBT+ people, including the right to obtain dependant visas and spousal benefits for same-sex partners.

The Hong Kong Housing Authority, a government department, said it would seek legal advice “before taking appropriate follow-up actions.” It said there were no other applications for public housing from gay couples, apart from Infinger’s.

Hong Kong – which returned to Chinese rule in 1997 – decriminalized homosexuality in 1991, and the city has an annual pride parade and a lively gay scene.

LGBT+ groups said the ruling could help gay couples looking for a place to live in Hong Kong, where expensive private homes are often beyond the reach of many locals.

“Same-sex couples deserve to be treated with equality and respect. … The court made it clear that discrimination based on sexual orientation would not be tolerated,” Jerome Yau, co-founder of the campaign group Hong Kong Marriage Equality, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

Almost half of Hong Kong’s over seven million residents live in public housing, and the average waiting time for new applicants has risen to more than five years, housing authority data shows.

—Reuters

By Beh Lih Yi