News / Asia

Vietnam Activists Regroup After Failure of Same-Sex Marriage Bid

FILE - Newly married same-sex couple Tran Ngoc Diem Hang (R) and Le Thuy Linh (2nd R) share a moment during their public wedding as part of a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender event on a street in Hanoi, October 27, 2013.
FILE - Newly married same-sex couple Tran Ngoc Diem Hang (R) and Le Thuy Linh (2nd R) share a moment during their public wedding as part of a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender event on a street in Hanoi, October 27, 2013.
Marianne Brown

When Vietnam’s National Assembly passed revisions to the Marriage and Family Law in June, the country's gay and transgender rights activists were left disappointed.

But despite the hurdle, they are continuing to make their case.

In 2012, the Justice Ministry suggested including same-sex couples in its overhaul of the Marriage and Family Law. Many hoped this could clear the way for Vietnam to become a leader for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights in the region. Some speculated that Vietnam would become the first country in Southeast Asia to legalize same-sex weddings.

But as the debate progressed, these hopes gradually eroded.

When the law was finally passed last month, it removed an article that defined legal rights for cohabiting same-sex couples.

Lê Quang Bình, director of the Institute for Studies of Society, Economics and Environment (iSEE), a Vietnamese nonprofit organization that focuses on minority rights, called that a big disappointment.

“Vietnam fails to really protect rights to live with the one you love for LGBT in Vietnam," said Binh. "I think Vietnam could have done more than change the word from ‘ban’ to ‘not recognize’ same-sex marriage.” 

Many lawmakers also said they believed same-sex relationships should be regulated in the civil code rather than the Marriage and Family Law, and iSEE is now working with the Ministry of Justice to include the rights of transgender people to change their sex and include civil unions.

“For the civil code, it’s very much about legal consequence of same-sex couples, but in the law on marriage and family, it’s about love, relationships, [and] commitment," Binh said. "It’s more than just like the civil construct. It’s quite different in terms of legal meaning.”

Changing attitudes

Attitudes toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community have shifted greatly over the last few years in Vietnam, a country where traditions of patriarchal family values prevail. Last year, the UN congratulated the country on “great progress made” toward eliminating the stigma and discrimination for homosexuals.

Still, an iSEE poll released earlier this year found that a majority of respondents do not support gay marriage.

The last two years have seen the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community become more confident and increasingly visible, with high profile activities across the country, from flash mob performances to music and photography shows.

Nguyen Thanh Tam, part of the team behind Viet Pride, the country’s first gay pride parade, which was held in Hanoi in 2012, said everyone should be entitled to the right to marry no matter what their sexual orientation and gender identity.

“But at the same time it is not the only important type of equality we want to achieve," she said. "We also want to have the attitude that is accepting towards sexual diversity and all other differences that people have."

The Women’s Union and members of the National Assembly say Vietnamese society is not ready for the changes advocated by the rights activists. But some question whether the law should follow public opinion or lead it.

“I think that in countries like America, the laws inform the attitude and if you change the law then everything will fall into place," Tam said. "But I don’t think that the context in Vietnam follows that direction. We should be raising awareness and changing the public attitude at the same time as changing the law and the two of them will support each other.”

Steps forward, steps back

Society is ready for such a change, said Pauline Oosterhoff, co-author of the recent study, ‘Negotiating Public and Legal Spaces: The Emergence of an LGBT Movement in Vietnam,’ which was conducted by the Institute of Development Studies, a UK-based global research and charity organization.

“You can see on the whole mobilization ... on the street people did get a lot of support. But I think the Women’s Union, for example, or some parts of the Women’s Union or some parts of the People’s Committee are not ready,” she said.

But, she added, this setback is also just one part of broader restrictions on civil society in general.

“I also think there is a general tightening up in Vietnam at the moment because of all the internal politics," said Oosterhoff. "I feel there’s broader restrictions for civil society groups at the moment. So it might also have been the wrong timing.”

She described the progress of civil society like the popular dance known as the cha cha cha — one step forward, a step to the left, the right, then backward and again forward.

In addition to the civil code, Binh said iSEE is working on a law on equality and anti-discrimination, which Vietnam has committed to passing in the next four years.

Meanwhile, activists are preparing for the third Viet Pride in August, which is expected to be the biggest yet.

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Jasmine from: South Korea
July 08, 2014 10:42 AM
Why isn't there a radio file?

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs