Hong Kong (AFP) - A British lesbian won the right to live and work in Hong Kong with her partner in a landmark decision Wednesday by the top court in the city, where same-sex unions are not recognised.
The Court of Final Appeal judgement ends the protracted legal battle by "QT", who has entered into a civil partnership in Britain in 2011 and moved to Hong Kong with her partner the same year.
"The ability to bring in dependants is an important issue for persons deciding whether to move to Hong Kong," the court said, adding it was "counter-productive" to limit that right to straight couples.
It said employment visas are granted "because he or she has the talent or skills deemed needed or desirable. Such a person could be straight or gay".
Gay marriage and same-sex unions are currently not recognised in Hong Kong.
QT was denied a dependant visa, forcing her to stay on as a visitor without the right to work, after she moved to Hong Kong when her partner got a job in the city.
In September last year she won her case at the Court of Appeal as it ruled immigration authorities had "failed to justify the indirect discrimination on account of sexual orientation that QT suffers".
But that decision was challenged by the government and taken to the city's highest court, in what critics said was a disappointing backwards step.
Top financial institutions including Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley have publicly backed QT, saying diverse hiring practices are crucial to attracting and retaining top talent.
During the case, Dinah Rose, representing QT, argued the bid was not about social benefits or financial gain, or expecting the immigration department to recognise gay marriage -- but "just (to be) able to live with your partner".
She added the couple have a "public, registered" and legal bond which is not recognised in Hong Kong and are therefore "placed in a significant disadvantage" compared to straight couples.
David Pannick, representing the government, told the court "marriage creates a status" which in itself justified different treatment for same-sex couples and heterosexual couples.
When the constitutional court in neighbouring Taiwan ruled in favour of allowing gay marriage last May, campaigners in socially conservative Hong Kong highlighted the city's lack of progress on equality issues.
Hong Kong only decriminalised homosexuality in 1991 and while LGBT groups have become more prominent in the semi-autonomous Chinese city, conservative activists have also launched anti-rights campaigns.
Hong Kong's public libraries have recently hidden away LGBT-themed children's books, putting them in request only closed-off areas after pressure from conservative campaigners, sparking outrage among the LGBT community and supporters.
However, there are other signs that attitudes are changing.
A study published by the centre for comparative and public law at the University of Hong Kong on Tuesday said 50.4 percent of people expressed support for same-sex marriage last year, up from 38 percent in 2013.