HANOI, Vietnam — Vietnam's communist government is now considering whether to allow same-sex couples to marry or legally register and receive rights — positioning the country to be the first in Asia to do so.
Even longtime gay-rights activists are stunned by the Justice Ministry's proposal to include same-sex couples in its overhaul of the country's marriage law. No one knows what form it will take or whether it will survive long enough to be debated before the National Assembly next year, but supporters say the fact that it's even being considered is a victory in a region where simply being gay can result in jail sentences or whippings with a rattan cane.
"I think everyone is surprised," said Vien Tanjung, an Indonesian gay-rights activist. "Even if it's not successful, it's already making history. For me, personally, I think it's going to go through."
Vietnam seems an unlikely champion of gay-rights issues. Up until just a few years ago, homosexuality was labeled as a "social evil" alongside drug addiction and prostitution.
Globally, 11 countries have legalized same-sex marriage since the Netherlands became the first to do so in 2001. Only a few U.S. states allow it, but President Barack Obama provided hope for many couples worldwide after announcing his support this year.