In a move that has stunned and elated gay-rights activists, Vietnam's Communist government is now considering whether to allow same-sex couples to marry or legally register and receive rights.
The Vietnamese Justice Ministry is considering the proposal in its overhaul of the country's marriage law. If passed, Vietnam would be the first Asian country to do so, according to NPR.org.
While acknowledged that it is doubtful this first attempt will result in passage of full rights for same-sex couples, or even if it will survive long enough to be debated before the National Assembly next year, supporters are encouraged that it is even being considered.
"I think everyone is surprised," Vien Tanjung, an Indonesian gay-rights activist, told the Associated Press. "Even if it's not successful it's already making history. For me, personally, I think it's going to go through."
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‘It is a big step forward already when the government officially considers same sex relation and consults for law revision,’ said Le Quang Binh Director of the Institute for Studies of Society, Economy and Environment (iSEE).
To understand the total significance, it is important to realize that Vietnam is a country where simply being gay can result in jail sentences or whippings with a rattan cane. Until just a few years ago, homosexuality was considered as serious a "social evil" as drug addiction and prostitution, according to the NPR.com report.
The Ministry of Justice sent out a letter to organizations such as the Supreme Court, the government’s family department and Hanoi Law University asking for opinions about legalizing same-sex marriage, reported GayStarNews on June 20, 2012.
“The government of the single-party state discussed the issue at meetings in Hanoi in April and Ho Chi Minh City in May and is planning further discussion at the National Assembly congress in spring 2013.”
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The Justice Ministry 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, reports NPR.org.
"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."
The first public gay marriage in the country was reported in 2007. The couple, Dinh Cong Khanh and Nguyen Thai Nguyen, now lives in Canada, where gay marriage is recognized.
A same-sex wedding on May 16, 2012, between Truong Van Hen and Nguyen was attended by hundreds in Kien Giang province. Thousands of curious people were said to have surrounded the wedding, jamming the traffic. Some tried to stop or protest the wedding, but were dismissed by the local authorities, reported VietNamNet.
Same-sex marriages are now legal in 11 countries and a few states in the U.S.