Twelve years after Vietnam first established a fine for same-sex couples who marry, the Ministry of Justice has recently proposed doubling the fine, but the plan has provoked a wave of criticism.
Under the draft decree expected to take effect this July 1 if it is approved, homosexual couples that get married would be fined VND200,000-1 million (US$9.55-47.77), twice the current fine introduced in 2000.
The proposal comes amid recent calls to legalize same-sex marriage in Vietnam in fact, the ministry also once announced that it would mull doing that in a draft revision to the 1999 Law on Marriage and Family.
Le Quang Binh, director of the Institute for Studies of Society, Economy and Environment, told the Tien Phong (Pioneer) newspaper that given the progress toward acceptance that has been made by Vietnam's LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) community, the proposal is considered by many to be a "step back" in terms of the protection of gay rights.
Moreover, since same-sex marriages are illegal in Vietnam, related agencies cannot grant certificates to such marriages unless homosexuals successfully disguise themselves or fake documents, but no such cheating has ever been detected, Binh said.
So, to punish gay marriage is tantamount to punishing an illusion, he stressed. "In other words, such punishment makes no influence on society."
Worse still, stipulating fines on same-sex marriage while many people and officials in Vietnam do not differentiate between the words "marriage," "cohabitation," and "wedding" will lead to the unnecessary interference into the lives of those in the LGBT community, Binh said.
"This will cause more violations of LGBT rights. Especially, by maintaining the punishment, the government will send the wrong message to the society and the LGBT community," he said.
Thus, instead of doubling the fine, the Ministry of Justice should revoke the punishment.
Otherwise it needs to issue detailed instructions for officials to avoid misinterpretations of existing law that might lead to violations of human rights, Binh was quoted as saying.
Nguyen Hong Bach, a lawyer with the Hanoi Bar Association, agreed, saying that the punishment is "baseless," because it is almost impossible for homosexuals to successfully register to be married in Vietnam."
Related agencies only have the authority to refuse to approve their marriage applications, not fine them, he stressed.
Nguyen Van Cu, an expert in marriage and family, also called on the ministry to eliminate the punishment, Tien Phong reported.
Meanwhile, Le Hong Son, director of the Ministry of Justice's Department for Inspection of Legal Documents, said it would be better to introduce regulations that warn or remind homosexuals of the fact that same-sex marriage remains illegal in Vietnam.
However, Son also said that with the increasing demand for marriage and cohabitation rights among the LGBT community, Vietnam will have to legalize same-sex marriage in the future.