HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong's top court granted a transgender woman the right to marry her boyfriend Monday in a watershed ruling that falls short of allowing same-sex marriage.
The surprise decision only covers the right of a transgender person who was born male to marry a man, and for one who was born female to marry a woman.
The ruling by the Court of Final Appeal brings the semiautonomous Chinese city in line with many other places in the Asia-Pacific region, including mainland China, where transgender people are allowed to marry as their new gender.
The court ruled in favor of the woman, identified only as W. One of the judges on the five-member panel dissented.
W's lawyer, Michael Vidler, said his client was "overjoyed." W, who is in her 30s, was born a man but had surgery in 2008 to become a woman. The hospital issued a letter certifying her new gender.
Vidler read a statement by W to reporters in which she said that after the surgery she has lived her life "as a woman and been treated as a woman in all respects except as regards my right to marriage. This decision rights that wrong."
In a conference call later with reporters, W said, "I'm very glad that I can finally get married to my beloved boyfriend in Hong Kong." She added that she hopes the ruling will have a positive influence how sexual minorities are seen in Hong Kong, where many hold conservative views.
Vidler said the ruling won't take effect for 12 months, giving the government time to change marriage laws.
The judges noted that from evidence and submissions received, "it appears in the Asia-Pacific region, such marriages are permitted" in mainland China, Singapore, India, South Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand. Same-sex marriage remains rare in the region, though New Zealand approved it last month.
In China, the Ministry of Civil Affairs clarified the law in 2003 to make it clear that transgender marriage is legal.
Hong Kong, a former British colony, came back under Chinese control in 1997 but was granted a high degree of autonomy from Beijing and retains a separate legal system.
Researcher Yu Bing in Beijing and Nick Perry in Wellington, New Zealand, contributed to this report.