Dozens of large banks, law firms join in fight for Hong Kong gay spouse visas

A file photo of a participant holding a rainbow umbrella as he attends a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Pride Parade in Hong Kong, on Nov 8, 2014.
A file photo of a participant holding a rainbow umbrella as he attends a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Pride Parade in Hong Kong, on Nov 8, 2014. PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - 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 Group Inc, Credit Suisse Group AG and Nomura Holdings Inc 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 Mr B. Chen Zhu, a Hong Kong-based counsel at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, 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 bub.

Hong Kong, which doesn't 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," Ms Jacinta Redden, chief executive of the Australian Chamber of Commerce, said on Thursday (April 12).

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Wednesday that the business community 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," Ms 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.

Vidler & Co Solicitors, which represents QT, on Wednesday announced the applications by the financial institutions and law firms on its Facebook page without naming them. The case is set to be heard on June 5 at the Court of Final Appeal, according to Vidler.

That disclosure caught firms by surprise. They had filed their applications last month and didn't want to discuss the matter outside the court room, according to Mr 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, Mr Zhu said.

A dozen institutions filed a similar application with a lower court last year, including ABN Amro Group NV, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley.

The same 12 have filed again, joined by three more: Barclays Plc, Deutsche Bank AG Hong Kong Branch and Macquarie Group.

In a separate application, 16 law firms also applied to intervene, including Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, Clifford Chance LLP and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP.