While Southeast Asia’s Muslim countries, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei, take a dim view of homosexuality, Vietnam is leading the way with its views on LGBT.
With the enactment on Jan. 1 of a law that abolishes regulations that “prohibit marriage between people of the same sex”, Vietnam now becomes only the second country in Asia (after Israel) that allows same sex marriage.
According to a Bloomberg telephone interview with Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, in Thailand, efforts to address same-sex laws have stalled since the ascent of the military government in May. Cambodia, Burma and Laos have yet to the issue on its legislative agenda while the Philippines is considering laws to ban same-sex marriage. In Brunei, “the new penal code sets out that those seeking to be involved in gay marriage could face whippings and long prison sentences.”
Vietnam is already seeing an influx of LGBT travelers from abroad, says Nguyen Anh Tuan in the same Bloomberg article quoting Phil Robertson. Owner of Gay Hanoi Tours, he has seen bookings increase by as much as 50 percent in the past year.
The new law “indicates to everyone that Vietnam is opening up more and welcomes everyone,” he says. “Vietnam is changing very quickly. There are bigger gay communities and gay events.”
This is reflected in the December arrival of the new U.S. ambassador to Vietnam, Ted Osius, along with his husband, Clayton Bond, and their son.
The country’s leaders have also allowed gay organisations to be established and in the summer permitted a gay pride bicycle ridewith rainbow flags in Hanoi. The ASEAN Pride festival in May last year was part of this relaxation – it was the first time a music festival to raise awareness of LGBT issues was allowed in Vietnam.
Granting LGBT people more freedoms “is something extraordinary in a region in which many countries have deeply conservative societies,” says Joerg Wischermann, a researcher at the German Institute of Global and Area Studies.
The issue now is legal rights. At present, while same sex marriage is legal in Vietnam, when a gay couple ends their relationship, or if one were to die, there is no legal framework for how to split assets.
Please note that since this article was written we have added a clarification – there is some confusion between the term marriage and wedding and what changes have actually been made. To see the clarification, please click here: