A transgender pastor in Hong Kong has vowed to officiate same-sex marriages despite a High Court ruling which fails to assure he will not be arrested.

62-year-old Marrz Balaoro is a Filipino domestic helper who moved to Hong Kong in 1981 and began socially transitioning to a man at 12.

Since then Balaoro has been running a proverbial underground railroad for LGBTQI couples. He was arrested in 2017 after he was found holding marriage ceremonies in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Straight (LGBTS) Christian Church, which he founded in 2014.

Despite holding the weddings in secret, Balaoro eventually filed a judicial review case with the Hong Kong High Court in May last year in hopes of winning the right to hold Christian marriages for LGBTQI couples openly.

Balaoro’s case centred on the right to freedom of worship, contending that as a pastor, he should be able to officiate holy unions as he sees fit and without fear of arrest.

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However, in its ruling earlier this month the High Court rejected his application and agreed that while Balaoro had previously done nothing illegal, it did not have the power to protect him from the threat of prosecution.

Speaking to Reuters, Balaoro said that he would continue to perform same-sex marriages and was confident that he would not get arrested, noting that he had an upcoming ceremony planned in April.

“I can still do (same-sex marriages) and I will continue to do so,” Balaoro said

“The court said that I did nothing wrong or illegal – that is my assurance that I won’t get arrested.”

A victory in the High Court would have allowed Balaoro to conduct same-sex marriages, but they would not have carried any legal weight.

Hong Kong does not recognise marriage or civil unions for same-sex couples, however homosexuality has been decriminalised in the former British colony since 1991.

Balaoro’s legal challenge is the latest in a spate of challenges in Hong Kong to laws that discriminate against LGBTQI people – including the upholding of a ban on same-sex civil partnerships – despite Hong Kong having a thriving gay scene and even its own Pride parade.

Balaoro and his lawyers have decided against appealing the ruling but noted that he plans to discuss linking his church up with other LGBTQI activist groups, in the hopes of achieving the right to same-sex marriage by lobbying Hong Kong lawmakers.

“I would love to express my willingness to help other local groups – so we can do lobbying together – but I’m not sure how soon that will happen,” he said

LGBTQI people in Hong Kong are slowly achieving progress through national legislature after a court ruled earlier this month that married same-sex couples have the right to apply for public housing.

 

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