Vietnam on right track to legalize same-sex marriages, but miles to go

Published: December 14, 2012

They grabbed the paper, read it enthusiastically, but put it away quickly.

The article about the government mulling over whether to allow same-sex couples to legally cohabitate failed to excite a group of gay men in Ho Chi Minh City.

“This doesn’t really matter,” Nguyen Van Trung, a tour guide, told Vietweek. “We have been living together for years and it isn’t necessary to recognize it.”

In late November several government ministries issued for the first time a joint report that said: “There should be studies to [legally] recognize registered cohabitation by… same-sex couples.”

It called homosexuality a “natural sexual orientation” and said recognition of same-sex couples living together is inevitable and “laws should not prevent this” to ensure equal rights for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people.

Gay-rights activists have called this move another major step forward after the Ministry of Justice started polling public opinion on legalizing same-sex marriages last July while drafting amendments to prevailing marriage laws.

But the activists also pointed out that merely allowing same-sex marriages would not usher in social tolerance for such couples or eradicate the severe discrimination in a Confucian society where homosexuality was once labeled as taboo and even a “social evil.”

Trung said: “The main question we are asking is: Will the government allow people like us to wed?”

According to a study released Thursday (December 13) by the Hanoi-based non-profit Institute for Studies of Society, Economy and Environment (iSEE), 89 percent of people surveyed stigmatized the LGBT community.

Support for same-sex marriages was quite low at 37 percent, while 58 percent opposed it. The study surveyed 854 people and interviewed 31 citizens and officials.

Le Quang Binh, a sociologist who runs iSEE, told Vietweek: “The reasons people give to justify their opposition to same-sex marriages reflect the dominant heterosexual philosophy behind sex, marriage, and family.

“Many believe that a family should compose of a man and a woman, so their kids have role models to follow,” Binh, who has headed several research projects on lesbian and gay issues, said.

Storming a heterosexual bastion

Increasingly in a society where singers are fined for wearing skimpy clothes on stage, gay and lesbian couples are confronting social disdain and legal constraints by coming out and declaring their orientation.

No official statistics on homosexual people in Vietnam are available.

A YouTube clip featuring a transgender was released last month to rave reviews. Vietnam held its first public gay pride parade August 5 in Hanoi. The country’s first publicized gay wedding went viral online in 2010. Many ceremonies of gay and lesbian couples have also grabbed headlines.

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