Monday, July 30, 2012

The First Country in Asia to Say Yes to Marriage Equality...?

Some impressive things are happening on the equality front in one particular Asian nation, and it's catching everyone a little by surprise.

Is this happening in one of the region's bastions of democracy? -- Taiwan, Thailand, or the Philippines?  Not quite.  Surprisingly, the conversation of amending the marriage law to include gay couples is happening in a communist country:  Vietnam.

The Vietnamese government is now considering whether to allow same-sex couples to marry (or at least legally register) so they can receive the rights they're currently being denied.  Thus, Vietnam could very well be the first country in Asia to allow same-sex marriage, according to news agency AP.

Admittedly it comes as a bit of a surprise to most that Vietnam of all places is moving toward equality.  I would have placed my bet on Thailand, Taiwan, or even Nepal, which is still mired in debate over the ratification of its new constitution.  Even gay activists in Asia who have been struggling for years, are stunned by the Vietnamese Justice Ministry's proposal to include gay couples in the country's Marriage Act. 

No one knows what form a new law may take (if Vietnam's leaders will opt for a type of Registered Partnership, or recommend full marriage), or whether it will even survive long enough to be debated in the 498-member Quốc hội (National Assembly) next year, but the fact that a new law is being considered is a victory for LGBTQ people in the region.

It was only a few years ago that homosexuality was still described as a "social ill" in Vietnam, and was juxtaposed with drug addiction and prostitution.  Over the past five years, though, attitudes towards LGBT persons have changed a great deal; a change that can be attributed to the country's press.  Since the Vietnamese press are unable to write about politically sensitive topics, or openly criticize the country's one-party government, they have instead focused on gay life and daily struggles, shedding light on the everyday normality of the lives of gays and lesbians, including gay and lesbian couples.

Vietnam's first publicized same-sex wedding took place in 2010, though it wasn't legally recognized, followed thereafter by several other "commitment-type" ceremonies.  The Ministry of Justice of Vietnam said that a legal framework is now needed because the courts are unsure of how to handle disputes, inheritance, and other legal concerns arising from same-sex couples living together.  Unlike straight couples, gay couples are currently not covered under Vietnamese law. 

The new law proposed by the Ministry of Justice would give same-sex couples the right to jointly own property, inherit, and adopt children.

Vietnamese Justice Minister Ha Hung Cuong
In an interview on the 24th of June, Justice Minister Ha Hung Cuong said:
"I think, when we think of human rights, then it's time for us to take a look at reality.  The number of gays has increased to hundreds of thousands.  There are not just a few.  They live together without registering their marriages.  We must, of course, deal with these issues."
Minister Cuong is to be applauded for correctly stating that it's time to be realistic in light of human rights.  He's wrong, though, in his assertion that 'the number of gays has increased to hundreds of thousands.'  Gay and lesbian people haven't "increased" in number -- they're simply feeling more comfortable about coming out of the closet for the first time ever, and with that, naturally, more same-sex couples are publicly living together in permanent relationships.

On the 5th of August, Vietnam will have its very first gay parade.  Clearly things are changing for the better, and quickly.  What's more, politicized religious groups which have worked to stall or fight against LGBT rights and marriage equality in other countries (such as the Philippines and Taiwan), are severely restricted in their operation in Vietnam by the communist government.

There's still a while to go before a new law has the opportunity to come up for a vote.  The Justice Ministry will first consider the input from both the public and government agencies before they submit a proposal on whether to recommend same-sex marriage or some other type of legal recognition.  The proposal is then scheduled to be assessed in the National Assembly in May of next year.

"I think everyone is surprised," says Vien Tanjung, an Indonesian LGBT rights activist.  "Even if [the legislation] doesn't go through, it's already made history.  But personally, I think the law is going to go through."

Let us all hope so and wish the very best to all the same-sex couples in Vietnam.

Imagine if a communist country took the lead on LGBT rights in Asia, and showed it's neighboring democracies what equality is all about!  Imagine what a proverbial slap in the face that would be, and perhaps serve as a wake-up call to other Asian countries that have done nothing more than hem-haw around the issue for years.

I think it would be a great shame upon Asia's democracies -- countries where freedom, liberty, and justice are supposed to reign supreme -- if their communist neighbor were to grant to its citizens the civil rights that the democracies themselves have so far refused to grant.  Ouch.

Quote sources:  Associated Press (AP), Reuters, Aftenposten.


Post a Comment

Please be decent and respectful, and please post all comments in English so that everyone can understand. Thanks!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...