Same-sex wedding sparks support for gay marriage

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Nguyen Hoang Bao Quoc and Truong Van Hen, a gay couple who married recently in the Mekong Delta province of Kien Giang

The wedding of a gay couple in the Mekong Delta has prompted the gay community and human rights activists to become more outspoken against anti-gay discrimination

Nguyen Hoang Bao Quoc and Truong Van Hen have more or less gone into hiding, refusing to answer any questions ever since the day that should have been the happiest in their lives.

Hen, 22, and his spouse Quoc both men had to leave their home in Kien Giang Province's Ha Tien Town soon after their Mekong Delta wedding ceremony began.

Nearly a month later, the gay couple has remained mute as more and more supporters of their cause the legitimization of gay marriage come out to support them from all corners of society.

The two men have also received the support of their parents, which is more than many gay couples can say.

Though one of the two families had suggested organizing the wedding party unofficially, in the guise of a birthday party, to avoid attention from the public and local government, the couple decided, with family support, to hold a formal wedding ceremony just like a "straight" couple. Hen's parents told neighbors that they were going to hold a wedding ceremony for their "daughter."

About 100 guests were invited to the party. But over a thousand people showed up upon hearing rumors that the bride was going to be a man.

The peaceful atmosphere of the isolated Binh San Ward in the Mekong Delta was broken by noise and a traffic jam as local residents flocked to the wedding.

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Several people protested the wedding, but other residents expressed support for the gay couple and their families. The local government sent police officials to the wedding to stop the wedding and disperse thousands of curious onlookers, whose motorbikes had created a traffic jam.

Lam Le Oanh, chairwoman of Binh San Ward's People's Committee, who ordered the couple to leave the locality after the wedding and issued a fine, said that she and local residents were surprised by the wedding ceremony.

"I didn't know it was a wedding between two gay men. The couple did not come to the ward to register for marriage. Many thought that it was a normal wedding," Oanh told Vietweek.

A picture of the couple in front of their house on the wedding day was removed and family members were summoned to the ward people's committee to submit a report. Oanh said that the wedding celebration was illegal as the Marriage and Family Law prohibits same-sex message. However, as the couple was not officially registering for a government-recognized marriage, gay-rights advocates say the party was legal.

Le Quang Binh, head of the Institute for Studies of Society, Economy and Environment (iSEE), an independent, non-profit think-tank working exclusively on issues of human rights for minority groups in Vietnam, said the wedding celebration was a civil activity, which could not be regulated by the Marriage and Family Law.

The local government appeared embarrassed when it dealt with the "surprise wedding," he said, adding that "we cannot offer a penalty for people who love each other. Forcing the couple not to return to the locality was unlawful."

"Hen and Quoc are only guilty of wanting to be themselves," Binh said.

Same sex partners often reluctantly choose to live with heterosexual husbands or wives, trying to stem the discrimination and often live repressed and trouble lives.

Allowing same sex marriage is a win-win solution, he said, arguing that the only alternative was forcing hundreds of thousands, probably millions, of gay people to live a lie with heterosexual partners, or pushing them into secret lives with the ones they really love.

He said the National Assembly and Government have the responsibility of protecting the rights and freedoms of all citizens, whether gay, lesbian, bisexual or transsexual.

"A more civilized society is one in which the freedom and rights of everybody, including gay rights, are protected," Binh said.

Huynh Minh Thao, Communication and Service Manager for Information Connecting and Sharing (ICS), an NGO working for homosexual rights in Ho Chi Minh City, also supports the marriage of the couple.

Thao, who protested the local government's decision to punish the couple and their families, praised the couple's families who supported their sons' marriage.

"It's a civilized action," Thao said.

Binh also said the wedding party was as a highly symbolic action of a gay community that is becoming stronger, more assertive and more confident in expressing itself.

A few years ago, two lesbians in Ca Mau Province who held a similar wedding ceremony, also received a fine from local authorities.

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