Centre LGBT Paris-ÎdF, le Centre Lesbien, Gai, Bi et Trans de Paris et Île-de-France

Vietnam allows same-sex wedding


2015 came in with a delightful resolution for Vietnam as the 2014 law on Marriage and Family officially took effect on 1 January. This law has lifted the regulations that reserved marriage for heterosexual couples. Vietnam allows all kinds of couples to freely celebrate their unions and love regardless of their sexual orientation – before such unions received a heavy fine. It must be noted however that same-sex marriage will not officially be recognised by the state ; consequently these marriages will not be registered. It is still a cause for celebration because it means that Vietnam has become a leader in the movement for queer rights in Asia.

Neighbouring Thailand already attracts many tourists and is known for its acceptance of transgender identities. The two countries could perhaps pave the way for LGBT acceptance in South-East Asia.

Commonly considered a communist country, Vietnam is not an obvious destination for Western tourism and pink travellers. But the country has been boasting impressive economic growth and it has been attracting more and more foreign visitors to its shores. Ho Chi Minh City is a buzzing city that adapts favourably to modern culture. Its one-party state system may have worked in favour of LGBT rights activists as the issue was not used as a political tool by the government.

Is Vietnam’s decision to be more accepting of alternative lifestyles the right step ? It remains a conservative country with strong family values. Moreover, the portrayal of queer culture has always been portrayed by negative stereotypes. Even state media notoriously went out to call homosexuality a “social evil” in 2002. Many queer Vietnamese choose to live a double life because the reality is that not everyone can freely come out into acceptance in their society. Vietnam already has many social problems that it struggles to deal with daily. The law seems rather abrupt and does not appear to follow a series of events that led to its passing. It is a progressive move, but it is not clear if queer identities have a foundation to rely on in case same-sex marriage and a conservative society do not mix in the first go. Nevertheless, the move could be excellent in getting positive and open dialogue in the population, and make real progress regarding queer issues. After all, tolerance and acceptance of homosexuality took a long time in the West and it is has been taking even longer time to accept Trans identities.

More than half of the population has not yet reached 30 ; this means that older more conservative generations have a diminishing influence on changing attitudes in society. The popular T.V. show “Vui Song Mai Ngay” documented the lives of transgendered Vietnamese. The winner of Vietnam Idol 2012 was praised for coming out as a transgender woman on public television. In an attempt to portray homosexuality as a part of normal life, filmmaker Dang Khoa produced “My Best Gay Friends”, Vietnam’s first gay TV series. It wasn’t picked up for national broadcast, but it runs on YouTube. Vietnam hosted its first gay pride in August 2012. The 2014 ASEAN* pride festival took place in the capital, Hanoi, marking a regional attempt at visibility and letting the rainbow’s colours shine.

Vietnam’s decision towards equality should be applauded and as long as positive steps forward continue, the words gay and normal will be like two peas in a pod in Vietnamese culture.

*ASEAN – Association of South-East Asian Nations

Thomas Shamuyarira

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