Births, weddings and funerals – three rites of passage that are supposed to serve as markers of progress over the course of our lives. Seeing as we have little control over the tone of those first and final rites, perhaps it makes sense that people tend to make such a fuss about how they get married. In a couple of weeks, I’ll be doing just that. There’s a dress, there’s a lot of alcohol on order and now there’s also a volcano in Iceland that’s threatening to erupt and send an ash cloud across the flight paths of all of our guests.
But natural disasters aside, the wedding will hopefully go off without a hitch. I was not the kind of girl who daydreamed about the big white wedding. My parents were married on a layover in a Sydney registry office, with only my mother’s colleagues from the Pan Am flight crew as guests. And while this wedding will be a little more structured than theirs was, the idea of feeling like a princess for a day goes against all sorts of things that I believe in.
But the ability to celebrate such a personal decision with close family and friends is certainly a special one. The eagerness of people around me to help out with plans or simply offer congratulations is touching. And the ease with which I can sign a paper and be legally and socially bonded to another person – and therefore benefit from the practical and financial benefits of marriage – is convenient.
But if my situation was slightly different, I doubt I would feel the same enthusiasm for this particular rite of passage. While highly vocal groups in the US fight to push through same-sex marriage rights state-by-state, and England and Wales saw their first same-sex marriages take place earlier this year, Hong Kong is still stuck firmly in the dark ages when it comes to LGBT rights. The city almost operates its own version of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” when it comes to sexual orientation. Tolerance may be high but acceptance is not.
This July, transgender Hong Kongers were granted the right to marry following a high-profile court case last year. But just weeks before, the British Consulate announced that it would not be performing same-sex marriage for its citizens here due to an objection from the Hong Kong government. Having conducted the first overseas same-sex marriage in a country that also refuses to recognise it (at the British Consulate in Sydney), the Foreign Office should be making more noise in Hong Kong to protect the rights of its citizens and in doing so, highlight the need for reform across the region itself.
Hong Kong is a modern and secular society that is open to new ideas and encourages the immigration of international talent. But, if the rights that these immigrants are used to aren’t respected here in Hong Kong, the city faces losing much more than control over who can marry who.
Aisha Speirs is Monocle's Hong Kong bureau chief.