Demonstrators Trang Tuyet Nga, left, and Bach Ngoc Lien attend Vietnam's first ever gay pride march in Hanoi in 2012. Pic: AP.

For many years Vietnam’s gay community has had to put up with harassment and discrimination from much of the country’s society, including even from their own families.  However, attitudes appear to be shifting towards a more open and inclusive style of thinking.  It is even possible that lawmakers will vote to change the country’s Marriage and Family Law to allow same-sex marriage, or at least make it no longer illegal.

Legal changes?
The Marriage and Family Law will be revised in May of this year. The most recently released draft of the Marriage and Family Law has removed legislation pertaining to the ban on same-sex marriage but has kept language that states that the government will not formally recognize these types of marriages.

The new draft also puts forth two possible options for dealing with the cohabitation of same-sex couples.  The first is to simply not provide any legal recompense for those living together.  The second option is to allow the rights over shared assets to be adjudicated on the basis of bilateral agreements or, in the case of disputes, by the relevant civil codes.

While same-sex marriages may not be allowed, this does not necessarily speak towards an anti-gay feeling by the government – Vietnam has never made same-sex sexual activity illegal.

It gets better
Recently, the Vietnamese Institute of Sociology, the Institute for Studies of Society, Economy and Environment (iSEE) and the government-run Health Strategy and Policy Institute conducted a survey that found that a growing number of respondents now favor legalizing same-sex marriages.

After surveying 5,300 people in eight cities and provinces, the survey found that:

  • Over one-third were in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage;
  • 41 percent supported legalizing the rights of same-sex couples to adopt children and share assets and inheritance;
  • Over 72 percent believed that legalization of same-sex marriage would not affect their family; and
  • 63.2 percent said same-sex marriage would have no impact on them.

These numbers are a substantial change from just a few years ago.  A survey conducted in 2001 found that 82 percent of Vietnamese believed that homosexuality was never acceptable.  In 2002, the state-run media proclaimed that gay relationships were a “social evil” similar to prostitution and the use of illegal drugs.

However, by 2007 opinions were beginning to change, especially among young people.  In a survey conducted by the HCMC University of Pedagogy, it was found that 80 percent of students attending the country’s junior high and high schools believed that homosexuality was not wrong.

They’re here and…
Reflecting the society’s changing attitudes, a number of social movements have arisen to help support the gay rights movement.  On August 5, 2012, Vietnam held its first gay pride parade in Hanoi.

A movement of particular note is the Toi Dong Y (I Do) initiative, which now has more than 75,000 supporters nationwide.

Supporters of Toi Dong Y show their support for same-sex marriage by sharing their opinions on social networks and by changing their avatar or profile picture to the Toi Dong Y logo. Supporters also take pictures with the logo in various locations to show the widespread and growing support of the movement.

Other countries in Asia are also reconsidering their laws against gay people. Thailand, already known for its liberal sexual policies, is set to pass legislation on the legalization of same-sex relationships.  Cambodia will also amend its civil code, thus changing the country’s definition of marriage from the traditional “one-man and one-woman” to a more encompassing definition.