Tang Ai Linh is a Vietnamese woman who has been married to another woman for 14 years. In the past few months she has seen an increase in the number of people in Vietnam putting photographs and stories from gay weddings on Facebook.
Those pictures and stories are a big change for Vietnam. Fifteen years ago, Vietnamese officials banned gay marriage. The Law on Marriage and Family and other rulings let officials stop same-sex wedding ceremonies, and force people to pay a fine of $24. Sometimes the officials acted because they opposed homosexuality. Others sought to be paid bribes to permit the ceremonies to continue.
Tang Ai Linh says some officials stopped the weddings just because, in her words, “they want to cause trouble for us.”
But on January 1, 2015, a new law removed criminal penalties for same-sex marriages. The law has made Vietnam a leader in protecting gay rights in Southeast Asia. Many homosexual, bisexual and transgendered Vietnamese believe officials will now no longer try to stop weddings for same-sex couples.
But some people are confused
However, the law also says, “The State does not recognize marriage between people of the same sex.”
The language has caused confusion for some gay Vietnamese.
Nguyen Tan Phat operates a photography and design company with his boyfriend. He says he does not understand why the government would not recognize gay marriages if it does not ban them. “What does that mean we can do?” he says. “It’s really unclear.”
The new law also surprised many people because the governments of the nearby countries of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore have not loosened restrictions on homosexuals.
In contrast, government officials in Vietnam have approved celebrations and gatherings by large groups of homosexuals. And lawmakers have debated whether the government should recognize gay marriage.
Observers say one reason Vietnam can consider the issue is because it is a Communist country, and religious groups rarely influence lawmakers there. Religious groups are often the strongest opponents of same-sex marriage.
Same-sex marriage supporters also say the issue of gay marriage does not threaten officials’ hold on power, the way other rights issues might.
Public opinion moves toward same-sex marriage
Tran Khac Tung is the director of the gay rights group ICS. Mr. Tung says almost every Vietnamese official he has spoken to now supports gay rights. Mr. Tung says the cancelling of the gay marriage ban is just the latest sign of success. He says the change, in his words, “sends a message to the public of the position of the government -- that it is moving to more acceptance and tolerance of” lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people.
He says the government is even asking organizations like his to attend sessions in which laws are written. He says the invitations gives ICS credibility as an interest group during the policymaking process.
Mr. Tung adds that the growing support from parents, the media and the public, in his words, “creates pressure” for the government to act. He says the issue of gay rights and legalization of same-sex marriage “has been raised before, but nothing happened because there was no backup from society.”
Now, that has changed. Like in the United States, Vietnam appears to be preparing for national legalization and recognition of same-sex marriages.
Nguyen Tan Phat says he was happy when he heard about the change to the law on Facebook. He says it is good news for the homosexual community. He says people are now more open and more relaxed. He says in the past, gay people had difficulty telling family members about their sexuality. But now, he says, “it’s like a revolution, things are changing so fast.”
I’m Jim Tedder.
Correspondent Lien Hoang reported this story from Ho Chi Minh City. Christopher Cruise wrote the story in VOA Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly edited the story.
Words in This Story
penalty – n. punishment for breaking a rule or law
homosexual – adj. sexually attracted to people of the same sex
bisexual – adj. sexually attracted to both men and women
transgendered – adj. of or relating to people who have a sexual identity that is not clearly male or clearly female
in contrast – idiomatic to be different from someone or something
tolerance – n. willingness to accept feelings, habits, or beliefs that are different from your own
lesbian – n. a woman who is sexually attracted to other women; a female homosexual
attend – v. to go to and be present at an event or meeting
credibility – n. the quality of being believed or accepted as true, real or honest
backup – n. help or support provided by additional people or things
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