Vietnam’s Communist government is now considering whether to allow same-sex couples to marry or legally register and receive rights — positioning the country to be the first in Asia to do so.
Even longtime gay-rights activists are stunned by the Justice Ministry’s proposal to include same-sex couples in its overhaul of the country’s marriage law. No one knows what form it will take or whether it will survive long enough to be debated before the National Assembly next year, but supporters say the fact that it’s even being considered is a victory in a region where simply being gay can result in jail sentences or whippings with a rattan cane.
Vietnam seems an unlikely champion of gay-rights issues. Up until just a few years ago, homosexuality was labeled as a “social evil” alongside drug addiction and prostitution. But over the past five years, that’s slowly started to change. Vietnam’s state-run media, unable to write about politically sensitive topics or openly criticize the one-party government, have embraced the chance to explore gay issues.
The Justice Ministry now says a legal framework is necessary because the courts do not know how to handle disputes between same-sex couples living together. The new law could provide rights such as owning property, inheriting and adopting children.
“I think, as far as human rights are concerned, it’s time for us to look at the reality,” Justice Minister Ha Hung Cuong said Tuesday in an online chat broadcast on national TV and radio. “The number of homosexuals has mounted to hundreds of thousands. It’s not a small figure. They live together without registering marriage. They may own property. We, of course, have to handle these issues legally.”