The ruling communist government in Vietnam has abolished a ban on same-sex marriage, becoming the first country in Southeast Asia to make such a move.
Bui Minh Hong, an official from the Ministry of Justice’s Department of Economic and Civil Legislation, said the new regulation under the amended Law on Marriage and Family takes effect from New Year Day. This means that the government will no longer ban same-sex marriage or harass couples in such a marriage.
While all such weddings can now take place in Vietnam without the threat of fines or censure, the government will still not officially recognize same-sex marriages or provide related legal protections.
"They can organize wedding parties and live together but their marriage is not legally recognized by a certificate of marriage," said Hong according to Vietnamnet Bridge.
With this new amendment that abolishes regulations that “prohibit marriage between people of the same sex,” Vietnam is now a leader in gay rights in the region. No other country in Southeast Asia has taken as big a step toward accepting same-sex marriage as Vietnam, Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, told bloomberg.com.
This is particularly remarkable given that until 2000 it was illegal for gay couples to even live together same-sex relations was only taken off Vietnam’s official list of mental illnesses in 2001.
Vietnamese lawmakers initiated lifting a ban on same-sex marriages when they scrapped fines against such marriages under a decree taking effect November 2013. Vietnam also hosts the new US Ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius, who is the first openly gay US ambassador to an Asian country.
The last two years have seen the LGBT community become more confident and increasingly visible, with high profile activities such as gay pride parades, flash mob performances music and photography shows.
Vietnam’s progress on gay rights is in stark contrast to the laws that criminalize same-sex relations in nearby Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Myanmar.
Brunei has initiated laws to stone to death gay people. Same-sex relations carry a carries a 10-year prison term in Myanmar and in Malaysia is punishable by up to 20 years in jail and even public whipping.
Singapore’s courts have recently upheld its anti-gay laws and Indonesia’s Aceh province punishes same-sex relations with 100 lashes.
“Each country in the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) has laws that discriminate based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity,” Chumaporn Taengkliang of the Together for Equality Action Group had earlier pointed out.
Vietnam, which has a population of 90 million, has an estimated 1.65 million LGBT people.