New bill could make de facto same-sex marriage OK in Vietnam

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Participants take part in a flash mob during a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) street event in Hanoi on October 27, 2013. Experts are urging the government to legalize same-sex marriage as lawmakers are scheduled to vote on an update of the Marriage and Family Law in May. PHOTO: REUTERS
An said it was frightening to see his wife in a thin nightgown every night.
“I was chilled and just wanted to stay away like people afraid of infectious diseases,” said the homosexual from Hanoi.
Several years ago, he married a woman after his parents spent years trying to force him to do so. They begged, cried, complained, scolded and threatened. Finally, they got a grandchild.
An was too afraid to tell his family and his wife that he is gay.
But homosexuals like An are looking forward to a brighter future as Vietnam took a significant step in scrapping fines against same-sex marriage last November.
While a draft update of the Marriage and Family Law scheduled to be voted on by lawmakers at the coming May session proposed lifting the ban on same-sex marriage, experts and insiders are calling for the practice to be legalized outright, giving full marital rights to LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual) couples.
In the closet
An could not conceal his secret from his wife forever.
She suspected him of having an extramarital relationship a woman and secretly followed him. She was shocked to find him caressing another man on Thien Quang Lake – a common dating place for gays in Hanoi.
They parted and their child lives with his distressed wife. An now lives with his true love, who is also gay man, while still being tormented by the pain he caused for his wife and child.
An is one of an estimated 1.65 million LGBT people in Vietnam, which has a population of 90 million.
The group is hoping that same-sex marriage will be legalized and regulated by law, an issue that has not been included in the draft update of the Marriage and Family Law. The draft only proposes lifting a previous ban on same-sex marriage.
Actual demand
The Institute for Studies of Society, Economy and Environment (iSEE) on March 10 released a survey about the attitudes of Vietnamese people towards same-sex marriage, which found that 33.7 percent of respondents support the issue.
But nearly 73 percent of respondents said same-sex marriages have bad affects on family life, according to the survey that polled 5,297 people aged 18-69 in eight cities and provinces nationwide.
The proportion of respondents who support same-sex marriage are higher among groups with higher education and this showed that if people understand more about the issue, they would be willing to accept it, according to the researchers that undertook the survey.
Another survey by iSEE found that almost all LGBT people in Vietnam want same-sex marriage to be legalized.
Thus, their wish to have same-sex marriage regulated by law is a real and urgent demand, according to the survey report’s authors.
But the survey, which polled 2,438 LGBT people in 2013, found that about 40 percent said they intended to marry people of the opposite sex because they do not want to come out of the closet.
Indecisive bill
At a conference to discuss the marriage and family bill, Dinh Xuan Thao, director of the Legislative Research Institute, said lawmakers are waiting for a consensus in society before legalizing same-sex marriage.
“Same-sex marriage is recognized by just a few countries and not in any ASEAN nation… We have an advanced step of ‘not banning’ it. With the current trend, there will be further steps soon,” he said.
Worldwide, 16 countries and parts of Mexico and US have laws allowing same-sex marriage and domestic partnership. Most of these are in Europe and South America.
According to the latest version of the draft update of the Marriage and Family Law, an article banning same-sex marriage was removed. However, it proposed that “the government does not recognize marriages between people of the same sex.”
Meanwhile, it proposed two options: either not stipulating or stipulating the rights over shared assets of same-sex couples.
For the latter, it proposed that rights over shared assets be solved based on bilateral agreements, and by the Civil Codes in case there is no agreement.
Phan Trung Ly, chairman of the Law Committee under the National Assembly – Vietnam’s parliament – said: “It is undecided whether we will only lift the ban or whether we will also fully-recognize it at the same time. My point of view is that we should recognize it.”
Yen, a 32-year-old lesbian at the conference said she was living with another lesbian and they have an adopted child. She wants Vietnam to fully-legalize same-sex marriage in the draft law.
“We have spent much time and effort pursuing our rights. But the bill disappointed me,” she said. “Homosexuals are still not protected by [the new] law,” she said.
Luong The Huy, a researcher with iSEE, said the right of marriage for same-sex couples is being “suspended pending further planning in the future.”
“In reality, nothing has been changed. Same-sex couples continue to love and live with each other while there is no law to protect their rights and marital benefits for inheritance, assets and children,” he said.
Huy said it is difficult to make lawmakers speak out like Nguyen Sinh Hung, chairman of the National Assembly, did: “Saying ‘not banning’ is a development, but why doesn’t the National Assembly just recognize it?”
Huy proposed that the new law should stipulate the rights and duties of same-sex couples over their children, instead of only over assets.
“In this urgent time, lawmakers should think about the people who have entrusted them. They trust that every one is treated equally by laws. They trust that happiness and love are the basic things that people pursue,” he said.

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