It’s good for business: Why Goldman Sachs is intervening in a gay rights case in Hong Kong

Fitting in.
Fitting in.
Image: EPA/Jerome Favre
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Twelve international financial firms are stepping in to help a woman in a same-sex relationship obtain a dependent visa to live and work in Hong Kong with her partner.

The case involves a British woman known as QT, who in 2015 filed a landmark judicial review in Hong Kong courts against the city’s Immigration Department. QT and her partner SS, who entered into a civil partnership in the UK, moved to Hong Kong in 2011 when QT got a job at a technology company, but SS was not granted the same dependent visa rights as heterosexual partners otherwise would get in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong’s High Court last year rejected QT’s application on the grounds that because Hong Kong law defines marriage as between a man and a woman, granting a same-sex partner a dependent visa would be illegal. An appeal hearing is scheduled for June 15 and 16.

A dozen firms—including Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse, ANZ Bank, and State Street—have applied for an intervention in QT’s appeal, meaning that they “seek to assist the court by giving a more rounded picture of the issues” from an employer’s perspective, according to a statement yesterday (June 7) from law firm Davis Polk, which is representing the companies. The firms argue that protecting LGBT rights is good business—the companies “all seek to attract and hire top talent from around the world in line with their diversity,” said the statement.

Hong Kong’s Court of Appeal today (June 8) rejected the intervention application from the companies and said it was able take into account the views of employers without the firms having to intervene, according to local broadcaster RTHK.

While neighboring Taiwan is set to become the first country in Asia to have marriage equality after a recent court ruling, LGBT rights in Hong Kong remains stalled, and at times seems to be moving backwards. Last month, a Hong Kong court granted spousal benefits to the same-sex partner of a civil servant in a historic ruling—only for the Hong Kong government to appeal that ruling weeks later.

Few public figures speak openly in support of gay rights, with the exception of Ray Chan, an openly gay lawmaker, who tweeted his support for the banks’ intervention:

One pro-Beijing lawmaker, Holden Chow, recently spoke out against LGBT rights despite being a member of the city’s equality watchdog.

With government support for LGBT rights all but absent, multinational companies like banks and technology firms have been among the most vocal supporters of gay rights in Hong Kong. HSBC, for example, unveiled a pair of rainbow-colored lions in front of its Hong Kong headquarters last year—only to draw protests from groups who said that HSBC’s move undermines family values.

Foreign companies have similarly been at the forefront of supporting LGBT rights in conservative Singapore, leading to the government to condemn the companies’ sponsorship of an annual LGBT gathering in the city-state known as Pink Dot SG on the grounds that foreigners should not interfere in domestic issues. This year, only Singaporeans will be allowed to take part in Pink Dot.

This piece has been updated to reflect the Court of Appeal’s rejection of the 12 companies’ intervention application on June 8.