HCMC Dining Guide

Friday, January 9, 2015

Vietnam Goes Gay

As of January 1, Vietnam abolished its ban on gay marriage, meaning the country has taken the lead in Southeast Asia (and indeed all of Asia) on gay rights. This doesn't mean same-sex marriage is completely recognized yet by the government, and there are no shared benefits or legal protection in case of disputes, but this is still an incredible move for a country with such a, shall we say, dubious record on other human rights issues.

The only country on the continent that recgonizes same-sex marriage is Israel, and while Vietnam isn't quite there, they have taken a huge step. This progressive move is especially stark when compared to other regional countries - Singapore recently re-affirmed its ban on same-sex marriage and the Philippines is considering one, while Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei have strong anti-gay regulations. Even the tourist haven of Thailand hasn't been able to make any progress on gay rights. People in Vietnam do still exhibit anti-gay sentiments, but I've never heard of any serious homophobia here. Surely it exists, as it does everywhere, but what I've seen is more of the teenage-students-poking-fun-at-each-other variety than something more entrenched. All you have to do is notice the way many young Vietnamese men dress and act to see that 'gayness' isn't a very big deal here. (Of course I say this as a straight man, perhaps someone who is gay would have a different perspective.)

There is also the fact that Ted Osius, the well-received new American ambassador to Vietnam, is openly gay and married. It is hoped that his standing will show those who are reluctant to support gay rights that homosexuals are normal people who can be just as successful as heterosexuals.

There's a quote in a Bloomberg story about the issue that perfectly sums up why an officially single-party Communist state would make such a bold move: "The government doesn't have problems with equal marriage," Nguyen said. "It doesn't have to do with the political system. This is determined by public opinion."

This sentiment highlights how the government seems to be operating - when it comes to political issues the leadership is extremely touchy and restrictive (Vietnam has jailed more journalists than just anybody), but on certain social issues that even advanced countries like America still can't get around to, they have taken stunningly progressive steps. Officials don't think the country is ready for full legal recognition of same-sex marriage yet, but at this point it seems like it's only a matter of time. (And I can't help but think of how rich it would be for a country like Vietnam, which most Americans think of as a communist backwater, to get there before the U.S.)

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