LONDON - Hong Kong's parliament rejected a motion that could have paved the way to legalizing same-sex unions on Thursday, in a region where no country allows gay or lesbian couples to marry.
The measure, which would have urged the government to consider granting "equal rights" to same-sex couples, was rejected by 27 votes to 24 on Thursday, with 6 abstentions, Hong Kong's Legislative Council said on its website.
"The government keeps avoiding studying policies for homosexual groups," the South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong newspaper, quoted gay lawmaker Raymond Chan, who proposed the motion, as saying.
"Opponents of this motion have to explain why they reject even such a small step forward."
No countries in Asia allow same-sex couples to marry or enter civil unions of any kind. Socially conservative attitudes prevail across the region, and opponents of same-sex marriage say such unions could destroy society and family institutions.
Homosexuality was decriminalized in 1991 in Hong Kong, which is more supportive of LGBT+ rights than mainland China. However, marriage is legally defined as a monogamous union between a man and a woman and same-sex marriage is not recognized.
Hong Kong said in September it would recognize overseas same-sex partnerships when granting dependent visas, a move that was supported by global banks and law firms operating in the former British colony.
Chan's motion would have urged the city's government "to study the formulation of policies for homosexual couples to enter into a union so that they can enjoy equal rights as heterosexual couples".
Lawmaker Priscilla Leung opposed Chan's motion on the grounds that Hong Kong should keep marriage between men and women and "refrain from shaking existing marriage institutions".
The self-ruled island of Taiwan, regarded as a beacon of liberalism in Asia, will on Saturday vote in a referendum on whether it should recognize same-sex marriage.
Taiwan's constitutional court said last year that same-sex couples have the right to legally marry, the first such ruling in Asia.