Vietnam Begins Debate on Marriage Equality

STORY BY Liz Willis

Published: July 12, 2013

From the time I began publishing the myPride blog through Mypride, Inc. in October 2012, I had worldwide marriage equality at the forefront of my mind. In the last several years the nation has turned its attention heavily towards marriage equality, especially now that DOMA has been overturned. The new ruling has led to an impetus of change in individual states as couples begin to get married and or fight even harder for their right to marry with the new federal ruling. Other countries have largely gone unnoticed in their fight for marriage equality until now.

Recently it was announced that Vietnam’s National Assembly has agreed to begin debating marriage equality this year. This news comes as a surprise as the nation has a poor record when it comes to human rights. Last summer Vietnam hosted its first pride parade in Hanoi, a successful endeavor that no doubt led to the push for the marriage equality debate. However, considering the large steps the country has made recently with the growth in LGBT rights activism on college campuses and advocacy organizations similar to those based in the US, Vietnam is poised for a strong push for marriage equality.

It would certainly be a big step not only for the country, but worldwide marriage equality. If passed it would be the first country in Asia to have marriage equality. According to Le Quang Binh, founder of the Hanoi-based research and social justice group iSEE, “I’ve seen there’s change. They understand that human rights is human rights. It’s the right thing to do. We always push for more freedom, more justice, more equality. We test the waters.” Binh left non-profit Oxfam to found iSEE. At the time of its founding there was a limited amount of data on lesbians and gays living in Vietnam. The LGBT community mainly had a presence on the internet in the form of online forums attracting tens of thousands of participants posting anonymously to protect their identity. Binh began to reach out to the webmasters of the online forums. Initially they suspected Binh to be a government agent, but eventually collaborated with him on developing a platform for equal rights.

The immediate goal was to address the negative image of the LGBT community in the media, much like the overall goal of Vietnam PFLAG was formed in order to create much-needed support groups. This was a significant step considering that the majority of gay-bashings in Vietnam occurred in the form of parents beating their kids. Education workshops were started in conjunction with National Assembly delegates and the Ministry of Justice. These changes have led Binh to believe that change is truly imminent and I agree.

It takes many steps to reach marriage equality as evidenced by the fight for equality here in the US. Vietnam’s debate on marriage equality is the culmination of careful changes to address the underlying issues faced in the LGBT community in Vietnam. Binh’s work has led to more available research and resources for LGBT individuals living in Vietnam, this in turn has allowed the movement to develop further. There is a cultural element to this debate due to the fact that often non-acceptance of LGBT individuals can start with their immediate family. While certainly not a battle that will be easily won, Vietnam is on track to face the issue head-on and to make a case for equal rights for LGBT individuals in Vietnam. 

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