Some truly surprising news about Vietnam broke over the weekend: Once a country that condemned homosexuality as a “social evil” alongside drugs and prostitution, Vietnam is now considering legalizing same-sex marriage. The Wall Street Journal also reports that Vietnam will hold its first gay pride parade in Hanoi on August 5.
The announcement that Vietnam may amend its current definition of marriage came as a shock to many, including long-time gay rights advocates. Vietnam has a less than stellar human rights record, and is constantly criticized by the international community for its muffling of dissident opinions. In a recent visit to the country, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned, “If Vietnam is going to continue developing and transition to an innovative, entrepreneurial economy … there will have to be more space created for the free exchange of ideas, to strengthen the rule of law and respect the universal rights of all workers, including the right to unionize.” So, for a country that Freedom House persistently rates as being “not free” to suddenly declare that it could legalize gay marriage is, understandably, unexpected. If the new legislation goes through, Vietnam would be the first Asian country to break from the conventional definiton of marriage as a union between a man and woman.
Whether the new amendment will actually become reality is still uncertain, however. The amendment to recognize same sex marriage has yet to be formally drafted, and state officials have announced that they will be still conducting public opinion polls before the drafting process. Even if passed, the amendment probably won’t come into effect for many years to come, but it should clarify disputes on same-sex couples living together, owning property, inheriting assets and adopting children.
Like many other Asian countries, Vietnam has been traditionally resistant to same-sex relationships. The LGBTQ community has largely remained underground, and prejudice against same-sex relationships is still common. But Vietnamese have also gradually become more tolerant of differences in sexual orientation over the years. Earlier this year, the first Vietnamese film to positively depict homosexuality was released.
Cover image is a still from aforementioned film “Lost in Paradise.”