A transgender pastor in Hong Kong is pushing for his right to officiate LGBT+ marriage ceremonies, in an unprecedented legal challenge.
Marrz Balaoro, 62, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Wednesday (May 8) that he holds Christian marriage ceremonies for LGBT+ couples in secret because of the risk of arrest.
Now, he wants to win the right to carry out the marriage ceremonies openly.
“All we ask for is to be allowed to worship and practise our religious faith in the eyes of God, free from the threat of persecution.”
— Pastor Balaoro
In what is thought to be an unprecedented case, the Christian pastor is turning the religious argument against equal marriage upside down. Balaoro argues that his congregation’s freedom to worship is being denied by Hong Kong’s ban on same-sex marriage.
“All we ask for is to be allowed to worship and practise our religious faith in the eyes of God, free from the threat of persecution,” Balaoro told Agence France Press (AFP).
Religious ceremonies for same-sex couples secretly held in Hong Kong church
Balaoro was arrested in 2017 on suspicion of breaking Hong Kong’s marriage laws.
He was found holding same-sex marriage ceremonies at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Straight (LGBTS) Christian Church, which he founded in 2014.
The ceremonies that Balaoro held for gay couples were known as Holy Unions – religious blessings that held no legal weight.
The charges were eventually dropped. Balaoro is now seeking legal assurances that he won’t be arrested again for continuing to carry out the Holy Union ceremonies.
“I asked (the police) for a written confirmation that I would not get arrested when I officiate a holy union again and they refused,” the Filipino domestic helper, who moved to Hong Kong in 1981 and began living as a boy aged 12, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“We cannot do it in the open because of fear of arrest.”
Balaoro’s judicial review case, filed in the Hong Kong High Court on May 3, rests on the right to freedom to worship—allowing him, as a pastor, to officiate holy unions as he sees fit.
Same-sex marriage is not currently legal anywhere in the region. Homosexuality was decriminalised in Hong Kong, a former British colony that was returned to Chinese rule in 1997, in 1991.
Two gay men launched legal challenges in January this year attempting to overturn Hong Kong’s ban on same-sex marriage, arguing it violates their right to equality.
A verdict in Pastor Balaoro’s case is expected in the coming month.