In an unusually progressive move, Vietnam’s National Assembly has agreed to begin debate on legalizing same-sex marriage this year.
Although the nation has a poor human rights record — “Vietnamese bloggers, folk singers and journalists are behind bars for deeds and words that in many countries are considered birthright freedoms,” noted USA Today in a report published Friday — it could become the first Asian country with marriage equality. “I’m optimistic,” LGBT activist Tran Khac Tung told the newspaper.
The LGBT movement in Vietnam burgeoned on college campuses in recent years and has given rise to numerous advocacy organizations, including a support group similar to Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. The nation’s first LGBT pride parade, last summer in Hanoi, went off without incident, and leaders of the ministries of health and justice have endorsed marriage equality.
While there has been some cynicism about the Communist Party–led government’s support for gay rights, as it is a cause that doesn’t threaten to undermine the regime’s authority, some activists see progress for LGBTs as a first step toward greater freedom for all in the nation.
“I’ve seen there’s change,” Le Quang Binh, founder of the social justice group ISEE, told USA Today. “They understand that human rights is human rights. It’s the right thing to do.” He continued, “We always push for more freedom, more justice, more equality. We test the waters.”