Hong Kong’s gay community has suffered a fresh legal setback after the Court of Appeal rejected an appeal against the city’s long-held denial of same-sex marriage to those who have legally wed overseas.

The lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender activists have won multiple court victories in recent years against the discrimination that is currently baked into Hong Kong’s laws.

But a ruling on Wednesday, August 24,  means any lifting of the current ban on gay marriage will likely need to come via legislation and not the courts.

The appeal was lodged by prominent activist Jimmy Sham, who married his Hong Kong partner in the United States in 2013, and is trying to get that partnership legally recognised in his home city.

Three judges ruled on Wednesday that the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-Constitution, “only prefers heterosexual marriage, which means that only heterosexual couples are entitled to recognition of their foreign marriage”.

If same-sex couples married overseas were offered recognition, it would “create an inherent incompatibility” between them and the gay couples who cannot legally marry in Hong Kong, the judges added.

The ruling can now only be overturned by Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal but it is not clear if Sham will continue a legal battle which has now been rejected by two tiers of court.

Rulings include a foreign lesbian couple being entitled to spousal visas and that the husband of an immigration officer should be entitled to the same benefits as heterosexual employees.

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