News / Asia

Vietnam’s Proposed Marriage Law Disappoints LGBT Activists

Newly married same-sex couple Tran Ngoc Diem Hang (R) and Le Thuy Linh (2nd R) during their public wedding as part of a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) event on a street in Hanoi Oct. 27, 2013.
Newly married same-sex couple Tran Ngoc Diem Hang (R) and Le Thuy Linh (2nd R) during their public wedding as part of a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) event on a street in Hanoi Oct. 27, 2013.
Marianne Brown
The latest draft of Vietnam’s Law on Marriage and Family has disappointed gay rights activists who were hoping it would define legal rights for cohabiting same-sex couples.
 
Attitudes towards the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community have changed greatly over the last few years in Vietnam, a country with prevailing traditions of patriarchal family values.
 
Flashmobs, annual gay pride parades, musical events and rallies regularly attract hundreds of participants across the country.
 
But while supporters of LGBT rights have become more prominent over the years, especially among young urban Vietnamese, not everyone is in favor.
 
Le Quang Ha, 57, works odd jobs. Sitting with a group of women at a stall in Hanoi selling sandwiches, known as banh my in Vietnamese, he says he does not think same-sex couples should have the same rights as heterosexual couples.

Through an interpreter, he said he thinks it is not natural for two people of the same sex to have a relationship and believes many people agree with him.

The women at the stall certainly do.

"I don't think same-sex couples should have legal rights," said the stallholder, who gave her name as Hien.

Vietnam's National Assembly says those views represent the majority of Vietnamese people. That's why lawmakers decided this week to remove an article in a draft of the revised Marriage and Family Law which defined legal rights for same-sex couples.

The law has been the subject of much campaigning over the last few years, with gay rights activists calling for the government to use the legislation as a way to tackle prejudice and discrimination.

Le Quang Binh, director of the Institute of Research for Society, Economy and Environment (iSEE) believes Vietnam’s lawmakers significantly underestimate the amount of public support for granting same sex couples some rights.

“Actually, according to our national survey of public opinion, more than 50 percent of the public support same-sex couples having the right to adoption and right to own property,” he said. “That was Article 16.”

Binh’s group issued a statement saying the omission of Article 16 “abandons millions of LGBT people,” and disappoints activists across the world who were looking to Vietnam to be a regional leader in promoting LGBT rights.

But Binh says the draft law does include some positive changes. It removes a previous article banning same-sex marriage, replacing it with a sentence saying the state does not recognize such unions.

“Before it was ‘wrong’ for two same-sex people to live together but now they said it’s not wrong, people have the right to be a couple but they are not ready to recognize same-sex marriage,” Binh said. “It’s a kind of baby step.”

An online petition calling for the reinstatement of the article has gathered over 10,000 signatures in just a few days.

The law on marriage and family is expected to be passed on June 19.

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