Vietnam is considering drafting a law that would legalize same-sex marriage, making it the first Asian country to break away from the traditional definition of marriage.
The Justice Ministry proposed to make amendments to the country's marriage law by including same-sex couples in the definition, The Associated Press reported on Sunday. A new law would also clarify disputes between same-sex couples living together, and address issues such as owning property, inheriting assets and adopting children.
"I think, as far as human rights are concerned, it's time for us to look at the reality," said Justice Minister Ha Hung Cuong last week. "The number of homosexuals has mounted to hundreds of thousands. It's not a small figure. They live together without registering marriage. They may own property. We, of course, have to handle these issues legally."
While it is unknown how long it would take to make such a proposal reality, gay-rights activists are hailing this notion as a major step forward, and are confident that one day soon they will see Vietnam become the first Asian country to embrace same-sex marriage.
"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."
Despite the news being welcomed by gay activists, Vietnam's communist government has often been criticized for jailing political activists and dissidents who speak out in favor of democracy and religious freedom. Homosexuality itself was once branded a "social evil" along the same lines as drug addiction and prostitution.
The marriage amendment has not been drafted as yet so it is still at least a few years away from becoming reality. The Justice Ministry has explained that it will consider opinions from the public along with government agencies before it submits the proposal to the National Assembly next year in May.
"Some people told me if Vietnam could legalize it, it would be very good example for other counties to follow," said Le Quang Binh, head of the nonprofit Institute for Studies of Society, Economy and Environment, which is providing consultation on the marriage law. "People think that talking about it is a big step forward already ... I hope it will lead to more openness or tolerance for gays and lesbians in Vietnam."
According to statistics, 92 percent of Vietnam's population is Buddhist, and another 6.7 percent is Catholic and less than 0.5 percent is Protestant.
The Roman Catholic Church, which teaches that homosexuals are called to celibacy, staunchly supports the traditional definition of marriage as between one man and one woman, but due to the minority it holds in Vietnam, is unlikely to be able to play a big part in the same-sex marriage debate in the country.