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【七問七答】入境事務主任同性配偶福利案

2017/5/2 — 10:46

資料圖片:梁鎮罡

資料圖片:梁鎮罡

七問七答入境事務主任同性配偶福利一案

1. 案件的起源起及背景是怎樣?

申請人梁鎮罡先生是高級入境事務主任。他是一名同性戀者。在2014年4月,梁先生與同性伴侶Adams 先生在紐西蘭結婚(判詞第5-7段)。

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2014年12月,公務員事務局局長回覆梁先生,指由於同性婚姻不屬《婚姻條例》下的「婚姻」,因此梁先生的丈夫不能享有《公務員事務規例》下給公務員配偶的福利(「福利決定」)(判詞第15段)。

2015年6月,稅務局局長回覆梁先生,指由於同性婚姻不屬《稅務條例》下的「婚姻」,因此網上報稅表不能填寫同性人士作為伴侶(「稅務決定」)(判詞第18段)。

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梁先生就「福利決定」及「稅務決定」申請司法覆核,由高等法院原頌法庭法官周家明(「法官」)審理。

2. 法庭如何就公務員事務局的「福利決定」作出裁決?

政府指,決定是否發放福利的準則實為「合法婚姻狀態」;但法官認為,因為香港的法例不認可同性婚姻,而梁先生因其性傾向不會步入異性戀婚姻,因此,「福利決定」最起碼是間接基於性傾向作出差別待遇。(判詞第47-54段)

該差別待遇並非有理可據。法官看不到若給予外國合法結婚的同性伴侶與異性伴侶一樣的福利,會出現任何不法的問題,亦看不到不給予同性伴侶福利,如何能夠保護傳統家庭制度(判詞第65-66段)。因此,「福利決定」屬對梁先生基於性傾向的非法歧視(判詞第78段)。

3. 法庭如何就稅務局的「稅務決定」作出裁決?

稅務局局長只是裁斷了「同性婚姻」不符合《稅務條例》下「婚姻」的定義(判詞第81段)。本司法覆核並非挑戰《稅務條例》下的「婚姻」定義,而是覆核稅務局局長就「婚姻」一詞的解釋。這個解釋本身在法律上是正確的(判詞第86-87段)。

本覆核並不涉及《稅務條例》下「婚姻」定義或伴侶評稅的機制是否符合《基本法》或《香港人權法案》中平等權的條文,法官不就此問題表達意見(判詞第88段)。

4. 為何法庭在「福利決定」與「稅務決定」有不同的裁決?

法官注意到在普通法及憲法下,「婚姻」一詞是指異性戀婚姻(判詞第85段)。「福利決定」與「稅務決定」不同之處,在於後者純屬是解釋《稅務條例》下的「婚姻」定義,法官認為政府在釋義上是正確的;但前者是政府推行一個政策,使用了這個「婚姻」定義,導致這個政策下的「福利決定」帶歧視性,因此違法。如果梁先生是直接挑戰《稅務條例》下的「婚姻」一詞不應只包含異性戀婚姻,會不會有不同的結果呢?

5. 法庭有沒有承認同性婚姻?

法官觀察,是否承認同性婚姻,屬社會政策,應交由立法機關決定,而非法院。而且,他未察覺《基本法》或《香港人權法案》中有任何條文要求香港法律必須承認同性婚姻(判詞第91(2)(a) 及(b)段)。因此,今次案件並沒有承認同性婚姻。

6. 什麼是「間接歧視」?

間接歧視在法律上可用下例子說明:如果某公司規定,如果要晉升經理,身高必須達1.75m以上,雖然這規定是適用於所有員工,但實際上能夠符合此要求的女性可能遠低於男性,而如果該規定並非有合理解釋,則會構成基於性別的「間接歧視」。

根據法官在本案的思路,「福利決定」可視為基於性傾向的「間接歧視」。

7. 裁決對私人公司員工福利政策有影響嗎?

是次裁決是就《基本法》及《香港人權法案》的裁決,裁決結果只對政府有效力。當然,如果政府落實裁決內容為海外結婚的同性伴侶提供同等福利,對私人機構能有帶頭作用。要令私人機構或僱主為海外結婚的同性伴侶提供同等福利,仍須訂立反性傾向歧視法。

 

7 Questions and Answers on the Immigration Officer's Court Case on Same-sex Spouse Benefits

1. What are the background facts and cause of action of this case?

The Applicant, Mr Leung Chun-kwong, is a Senior Immigration Officer who self-identified as a gay person. In April 2014, Mr Leung married his same-sex partner, Mr Adams, in New Zealand. (Judgment paragraph 5-7)

In December 2014, Mr Leung was informed by the Secretary for the Civil Service that since same-sex marriage did not fall within the definition of “marriage” under the Marriage Ordinance, Mr Leung’s husband would not be entitled to benefits available to spouses of civil servants under the Civil Service Regulations (the “Benefit Decision”) (Judgment paragraph 15).

Similarly, In June 2015, Mr Leung was informed by the Commissioner of Inland Revenue that since same-sex marriage was not regarded as a valid marriage for the purposes of the Inland Revenue Ordinance (the “IRO”), the online tax filing system would not accept a taxpayer to enter a person with the same sex as his/her spouse (the“Tax Decision”) (Judgment paragraph 18).

Mr Leung applied for judicial review against the Benefits Decision and the Tax Decision, which was heard before Mr Justice Anderson Chow at the Court of First Instance of the High Court (the“Judge”). 

2. How did the Court rule on the Decision on Benefits by the CSB?

The Government argued that the true eligibility criterion for the spousal benefits is “legal martial status”. However, the Judge took the view that since the laws of Hong Kong did not recognize same-sex marriages and Mr Leung could not be expected to enter into a heterosexual marriage due to his sexual orientation, the Benefits Decision amounts to differential treatment at least indirectly based on sexual orientation (Judgment paragraphs 47-54).  

Such differential treatment was not justified. The Judge could see nothing illegal or unlawful to accord the same spousal benefits to homosexual couples who are legally married under foreign laws. He also could not see how the denial of spousal benefits to homosexual couples would serve the purpose of protecting the institution of the tradition family. (Judgment paragraphs 65-66).  The Benefit Decision was thus held to be unlawful discrimination against Mr Leung based on his sexual orientation (Judgment paragraph 78).

3. How did the Court rule on the Decision on Taxation by the IRD?

The Commissioner of Inland Revenue only determined that same-sex marriage was not a marriage for the purpose of the IRO (Judgment paragraph 81).  The subject judicial review was a not a challenge of the definition of “marriage” in the IRO, but a review of the determination by the Commissioner of Inland Revenue on the interpretation of “marriage” under the IRO.  The said interpretation was correct as a matter of law (Judgment paragraph 86-87).

The current judicial review did not touch upon whether the equality provisions in the Basic Law or the Hong Kong Bill of Rights would require a different interpretation to be given to the term “marriage” in the IRO. The Judge expressed no view on this issue (Judgment paragraph 88). 

4. Why the Court gave different decisions on the Decision on Benefits and the Decision on Taxation?

The Judge was aware that under common law and constitutional purposes, “marriage” means heterosexual marriage (Judgment paragraph 85). The difference between the Benefits Decision and the Tax Decision is that, the latter was merely an interpretation of the term “marriage” in the IRO, on which the Judge took the view that the Government was correct in the interpretation sense. However, the former was to use such interpretation of the term “marriage” in a policy, making the policy discriminatory and hence unlawful. If Mr Leung had directly challenged that the term “marriage” should not have only included heterosexual marriage in the IRO, would the result have been different?

5. Has the Court approved same-sex marriage?

The Judge observed that whether to recognise same-sex marriage was a social policy decision for the legislature but not the court. Further, so far he could see nothing in the Basic Law or the Hong Kong Bill of Rights which required that Hong Kong law must recognise same-sex marriage. (Judgment paragraphs 91(2)(a) and (b)). Therefore, the current court decision has not approved same-sex marriage. 

6. What is “indirect discrimination”?

Indirect discrimination can be illustrated in the following example. A company requires that an employee who may be promoted as manager must be of the height of 1.75 m or above, and such requirement applies to all employees. However, practically, the number of female employees who can satisfy such requirement may be much less than male.  Without a reasonable justification, such requirement constitutes “indirect discrimination” based on sex. According to the Judge's reasoning, the Benefits Decision can be seen as indirect discrimination based on sexual orientation.

7. Does the court decision affect the employee benefit policies in private companies?

The court decision is concerned with the Basic Law and Hong Kong Bill of Rights. As such, the court decision will only be binding on the Government. Of course, if the Government could implement the court decision to provide the same spousal benefits to same-sex couples married overseas, this can set an example to encourage private companies to do the same.  In order for private companies or employees to provide the same benefits to same-sex couples married overseas, it is still essential to enact anti-discrimination laws on sexual orientation. 

 

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