Hong Kong transgender woman challenges marriage ban in court; city's first such case

HONG KONG (AP) — A Hong Kong court began reviewing Monday a government decision to bar a transgender woman from marrying her male partner in the first such case to be heard in the city's legal system, the woman's lawyer said.

The woman, a local resident in her 20s who can be only identified as "W'' under court order, was born male but underwent sex-change surgery over the past five years but was prevented from marrying her boyfriend by Hong Kong's marriage registry, her lawyer Michael Vidler said.

"She is a woman and she should be entitled to the same rights as a woman," Vidler said by phone.

The case underscores the uncertainty of marriage law when it comes to people who have changed their biological gender in the socially conservative ethnic Chinese community.

Vidler said authorities have acknowledged W's new gender in other respects: her hormone therapy and sex change surgery were paid for by the government, and she has obtained a new identity card and school certificates stating she is female.

But when she tried to marry a man last year, her application was refused because her birth certificate, which cannot be changed, still states she is male and Hong Kong bans same-sex marriage.

The Hong Kong High Court's review of the marriage registry's decision was set for two days starting Monday.

"We're not trying to change the law and we don't see this case as affecting or requiring changes to any law," Vidler said. "We just want her to be seen as a woman and treated as a woman."

Transgender marriage is permitted in many European countries and some U.S. states. In Asia, countries that allow it include Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and mainland China, according to Prof. Sam Winter at the University of Hong Kong, who studies transgender issues.

"On sexual matters, Hong Kong is a fairly conservative society. In this case, the government clearly takes the view that W is a man, and it is afraid stiff of opening the door to same-sex marriage," Winter said. "But W is a woman and should be regarded as a woman and should be given the rights of a woman to a heterosexual marriage."

The government's position effectively means that W, though anatomically a woman, can only be allowed to marry another woman, Winter said. "That is a fairly delicious irony that comes out of the government's policy."