Airport staff in Hong Kong reportedly confiscated the ashes of a British gay man from his husband earlier this year after officials claimed that his husband was not legally next of kin.
According to Buzzfeed, the incident took place on Jan. 22. While Marco Bulmer-Rizzi, 38, opened up about issues surrounding Australia's delegitimization of his marital status immediately after the incident, he did not feel he could publicly discuss what happened at the airport until this first exclusive interview with the publication.
The pair were legally married in the U.K in 2015, and Marco's husband, David Bulmer-Rizzi, died while the pair were on their honeymoon in South Australia after falling down a flight of stairs. With same-sex marriage not legally recognized in Australia, Australian officials told Bulmer-Rizzi that his husband's death certificate would reflect the status "never married."
David Bulmer-Rizzi was passing through Hong Kong on his way back to the U.K. after their honeymoon in Australia.
As a result of not being recognized as next of kin, Hong Kong airport officials determined that Bulmer-Rizzi did not have the adequate paperwork to legitimize his claim to his late husband's remains.
The Huffington Post spoke to Bulmer-Rizzi about his late husband this week. "What happened to me and David was the case of stepping outside national borders and finding the legality of our union being thrown into question," Bulmer-Rizzi told The Huffington Post. "It should not come as a surprise to all of the governments that have legislated to protect same-sex couple that other countries are not there yet. There are over 70 countries with laws that make homosexuality illegal. I think it is important for our governments to step up and protect rights of same-sex couples abroad."
For Bulmer-Rizzi, the fact that there is not legislative backing from the U.K. to support same-sex couples internationally proved to be devastating.
"It was the worst possible blow at the time where I had already lost my soulmate and my life had crumbled. [But] the outpouring of support from people all over the world made me realize there is a lot more light than darkness," Bulmer-Rizzi continued.
After putting him through the emotional trauma, the Hong Kong airport eventually allowed Bulmer-Rizzi to retrieve his husband's ashes and return with them to the U.K. The larger issue in the eyes of Bulmer-Rizzi, however, is that there was no policy in place to help him in this situation and a lack of support from the U.K. government. He reportedly had asked British authorities to provide documentation that validated his next of kin status before leaving Australia, but was not able to do so.
The Telegraph reports that the U.K. Foreign Office "has offered to meet with Mr Bulmer-Rizzi to discuss ways to improve assistance to British members of the gay, lesbian and transgender community who are subject to discrimination while travelling overseas." The publication also noted that Bulmer-Rizzi and his friends "scattered the ashes of his husband in Houghton-le-Spring, David Bulmer-Rizzi’s hometown in Sunderland."
"There are chilling stories daily not just about marriage equality but equality for all the communities and we really need to build awareness and stand with each other," Bulmer-Rizzi said to The Huffington Post. "Whether is the fight for marriage equality in Australia or the issue of the laws recently passed in North Carolina, love is love and we can stand by it and help protecting each other. It is not easy and it is debilitating to be at the receiving end of discrimination no matter what it is for, but there is also a lot of help and support from all facets of society that we can tap on and lean on."
UPDATE: Clive Howard, Manager of AVSECO's Operation Support Division, which oversees security at The Hong Kong International Airport, sent the following statement to The Huffington Post:
In response to your enquiry regarding Mr. Bulmer-Rizzi’s experience at the Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) on 22 January 2016, we have the following comments:
1. Under the HKIA Security Programme, human remains/ashes are exempt from security screening provided that appropriate documentation (e.g. a death certificate) is provided.
2. In this case, the ashes were carried through security inside Mr. Bulmer-Rizzi’s carry-on bag unbeknown to our security staff. The bag was security screened just as any other bag and the container identified with contents unknown. Security procedure requires that bag be checked for prohibited items.
3. Upon opening the bag, security staff found a container and had no knowledge of its contents. Mr. Bulmer-Rizzi objected and explained in English that these were human remains and there seems to have been a language issue at this point and the AVSECO Supervisor was called. At no time was the container opened or mistreated.
4. After clarification with the Supervisor, Mr. Bulmer-Rizzi was allowed to continue through security and continue his journey.
5. There is absolutely no question of any discrimination against Mr. Bulmer-Rizzi. Our staff had no knowledge whatsoever of his circumstances or of what he was carrying in his bag. They were simply carrying out their duty to ensure the safety and security of the airport and the travelling public.
6. AVSECO apologises for any inconvenience that may have been caused but had we been informed in advance that human remains were being carried, any misunderstanding could have been avoided.