When I first met Anne Platt, 49, two months ago he was wearing a Superman shirt and holding a plate of waffle cookies he'd just brought home from the Netherlands.
Platt invited me to sit on a couch, loaded with pillows, in the air-conditioned lobby of the Pink Tulip-- presumably Vietnam's first “straight-friendly” hotel.
“It's about 80 percent gay; 20 percent straight,” Platt said by way of explanation. “I like a mix.”
Jazz music played in the background. Woven lamps hung over a series of vinyl chairs that made up the downstairs spa, where a group of visiting Dutch hospitality students had splayed out, flicking away at touchscreens and chattering, while Platt's husband Nguyen Van Trung, 40, ran back and forth between a couch and the front desk.
Platt, a former a flight attendant, met Trung over milkshakes after the transplant from Hoi An offered to show him around a city he was curious to explore.
In 2006, Platt took four months off and stayed here with Trung.
They were in love, but weren't sure what would happen next.
“I spent years on the barricades fighting for gay marriage rights in the Netherlands,” he said. “But I'd never thought about getting married myself. It was more to just have the right to do so.”
But something changed. Something organic. The couple spent seven months filling paperwork so that in August of 2008, they could marry in Amsterdam.
It wasn't until Christmas of 2012 that Platt was finally able to pack up his life, quit his job to start a business with his husband.
The couple opened the Pink Tulip in February of last year.
They enjoyed glowing reviews on TripAdvisor and had no vacancies during my visit.
But, here in Vietnam, they're not quite married.
Platt said that, initially, Vietnam's mission to the Hague legalized their marriage papers and assured them everything was in order. But when they brought the document to a local immigration office, a pair of sniggering officials informed them it wouldn't be recognized.
Platt, who marched in Vietnam's first pride parade and opened its first gay hotel, was now back to square one.
“I'm basically renting my own house,” Platt explained, joking about the fact that—as a un-married foreigner--he can't own property.
The couple were hopeful that they would be married again soon.
“We're going to be the first,” Trung said. Platt worried about that idea. But the whole scene felt wholesome and hopeful.
By the end of May, all that hope had virtually vanished.
Gone are the days when provincial policemen can fine mothers and fathers for throwing unofficial wedding ceremonious for their gay sons and daughters. Gay people can still adopt children as “single parents.” And no one in Vietnam, to my knowledge, wants to beat them up.
But all that seems like pretty cold comfort given what happened on May 26.
A Grinch (or Grinches) on the National Assembly's Standing Committee yanked Article 16 out of its proposed amendment to the Family Law.
The article would have extended the same legal rights granted to husbands and wives to homosexual couples—full stop.
“But it just disappeared,” said an advocate close to the process, who noted that the amendment was still in place in February.
Where the amendment once stood, there's now a sentence that reads “Vietnam does not recognize same sex marriage.”
In a way, this outcome feels more in line with the Vietnam I know.
Some of the most successful restauranteurs, designers, performers and writers in Ho Chi Minh City are openly gay. They've managed to accrue lots of property and wealth and status. But all of this was done, somehow rather furtively.
Even the some of the most successful among them must maintain an absurd don't-ask don't-tell policy with their mothers. Derision and childish slurs are uttered behind their back seemingly everywhere they go.
And while Vietnam's administrative and paperwork procedures are notoriously absurd—I can only imagine that they are tragically Kafkaesque for same sex couples.
Perhaps the saddest thing about the National Assembly's shadowy backpedal is that Vietnam got the whole country, and the world, excited that it was about to do something genuinely cool.
Officials across the spectrum, from Vietnam's representative to the UN to a deputy minister of health, made strong public statements about the need to respect the rights of homosexuals.
“The march towards LGBT equality is starting to feel inevitable,” wrote Thomas Maresca, in a piece published by the Atlantic last spring.
It could very well have been the first country in Asia to grant gay people the rights they deserve.
Any why not? This is not a culture ruled by religious wackos. It's not particularly macho. And everyone (here in Saigon, at least) knows that at least one transsexual singer is going to show up at their funeral.
What's more—most people either don't care about this issue at all or are in favor of the change.
The Institute for Studies of Society, Economics and Environment (iSEE)--one of the main civil society groups behind the push towards equal rights—has spent a lot of time and money showing, again and again, that the majority of the population supports cohabitation and marriage rights for same-sex couples in surveys.
Instead of using this as an opportunity win some easy human rights cred, Vietnam pulled an absurd 180 without explaining why. No one knows who is responsible for the switch, whose interests it allegedly represents or why it's happening.
Even people who have worked closely on this issue couldn't offer me a name or an explanation—which frankly delegitimizes the nation's entire legislative process.
My own country the US, for its part, has made a full court press on the issue since Vietnam dropped the ball.
Same sex couples can now apply for fiancé visas—and I'm told they're not having a hard time getting them approved.
President Obama nominated a gay, married father to become the next ambassador to the country and last week, Consul General Rena Bitter held a ceremony to kick of Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Pride Month in Ho Chi Minh City.
But all of that came too little too late.
When I went to see Platt and Trung this week, they said life had been good. Business was nice and they continue to get along.
“But now we're in no-man's land” Platt said, about their marital status.
The couple is thinking of hiring a lawyer to press the issue. If Vietnam no longer expressly bans gay marriage, then they hope to force the local authorities to legalize their marriage certificate –which, under Dutch law, is not a “gay marriage,” it's just a marriage.
The final Family Law will be read on June 16. Until that time, we all have a chance to sign iSEE's petition
to either put Article 16 back into the law or delay amending the marriage law.
I've signed it. So should you. It's the cool thing to do.
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