Legislators are set to make history by enshrining into law provisions acknowledging the existence of same-sex couples and becoming the first country in Southeast Asia to legalize such marriages, reports thediplomat.com.
Vietnamese lawmakers have scrapped fines against same-sex marriage under a decree taking effect past November but the proposed Family and Marriage Bill has not yet officially recognized same-sex marriage.
This is particularly remarkable given that until 2000 it was illegal for gay couples to even live together.
“We were really surprised [the Communist Party of Vietnam] were putting LGBT issues on the agenda for public consultation,” Huy, the legal officer at Vietnam’s top social research body, the Institute for Studies of Society, Economy and Environment, told thediplomat.com.
The opportunity for equality arose during the Ministry of Justice’s review on the Law on Family and Marriage, which Vietnam’s legislative requirements stipulate must be revisited every 10 years.
If Vietnam’s lawmakers do not endorse marriage equality, the gay community will have to fight that battle in 10 years time, when the National Assembly next reviews the Law on Marriage and Family.
This is highly unlikely because according to Thuan Nguyen, Director of Hanoi’s LGBT Inclusive Business Development Initiative, the Communist Party of Vietnam is more focused on shoring up its legitimacy and using the debate over same-sex marriage to its advantage.
Justice Minister Ha Hung Cuong has already set the tone of the outcome by speaking in support of marriage among same-sex couples saying it was “unacceptable” to create social prejudice against the gay community.
“Over time the Vietnamese government has realized that this issue is scoring them points on the international stage,” adds Huy even though the nation’s largely Confucian conservative base still recognizes same-sex relations as a taboo.
“Many still believe it’s a mental illness or something to be ashamed of,” Thuan says. “And it was taken off Vietnam’s official list of mental illnesses in 2001.”
Yet for a country regarded as Southeast Asia’s most repressive state, there are advantages in having gay rights parades and public campaigns on marriage equality in order to distract from its crackdown on bloggers and dissidents and arrests over freedom of speech, expression and religion.
Gay rights just happens to be the beneficiary of the communist regime’s suppression of organized movements, they say.
Nonetheless, Vietnam’s progress on gay rights is in stark contrast to the laws that criminalize same-sex relations in nearby Malaysia, Singapore and Myanmar, and thus should be applauded, says Boris Dittrich, Advocacy Director for LGBT Rights at Human Rights Watch.
Hopefully, there would definitely be spillover effects in the region,” he says.