The chair of the Hong Kong’s leading human rights body has said that while same-sex marriage remains a “contentious” subject in the region, civil unions for gay couples are a “feasible” alternative.

Equal Opportunities Commission head Dr York Chow Yat-ngok told the South China Post that strong conservatism in Hong Kong has made equal marriage a controversial issue.

He said: “To use ‘marriage’ for same-sex couples would be rather difficult to accept for Hongkongers, especially the conservative ones.

“Overseas governments first thought of dropping the term ‘marriage’ and replacing it with ‘civil union.’ Legally, though, the protection is identical. I think this is feasible.

“I, and the commission, are of the view that the LGBT community should be provided with the same opportunities [as heterosexuals] wherever possible.”

Chow added that he hopes an amendment to allow post-operative transgender people legal gender recognition would spur debates about the issue.

In May, Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal ruled in favour of a trans woman seeking the right to marry her boyfriend, ending a three-year-long legal battle and sparking the change in legislation.

“If a person gets married and then changes his or her gender, this becomes a same-sex marriage,” Chow said.

He added: “Whether this should be legally enforceable remains contentious. And an ensuing question is should same-sex marriage be allowed as well?”