Your Move, America: Vietnam and a Gay Rights Decision to Shake the World

The Vietnamese Justice Department may be sparking a continental revolution. Coming under consideration this month, with a final decision due next May, Vietnam is officially considering the legality of same-sex marriage. If the bill passes, they will be the first in the continent to legally acknowledge such unions, joining eleven other nations worldwide.

While they may not be the first country to come to mind when you think about a champion of gay rights in Asia, they are less hostile to the idea, at least. Take some of their neighbors’ policies on homosexuality: in Burma, same-sex sexual activity is punishable by up to a life sentence, or in Malaysia, where such activity is punishable by fines, prison time, or whippings.

If the communist government of Vietnam does legalize same-sex unions, they would be the first in Asia to do so. Such a decision being considered by a communist ruling party has come as a surprise to some, but their reasoning is remarkably logical and, frankly just common sense. According to Justice Minister Ha Hung Cuong , “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.”  So, a move to legalize same-sex marriage out of the goodness of their hearts? Probably not. A pretty common-sense response to reality? Yes, indeed.

American policymakers are facing similar challenges. According to Gallup researchers, approximately 10% of the American population is homosexual, or around 31,000,000. Local and federal governments also have to consider many important legal issues that hinge on the legality of a same-sex union. One example of a decision made more complex by such indecisiveness is President Obama’s 2009 memorandum granting family medical leave (but not insurance coverage) to same-sex partners of federal employees. Other significant issues that arise include pension benefits, hospital visitation rights, inheritance, adoption, taxation, and immigration policies.

So why not save all the headaches and make a decision, on a national level, one way or another about these unions? It would seem that our conservative overtones make us a glutton for red-tape-dressed punishment. A decision of this caliber at a national level would be significant, as there are over 1,000 laws and polices stipulating the protections, benefits, and responsibilities associated with the institution of marriage. Rather than picking through numerous state-based rulings on the matter, a federal decision would streamline the entire policy-making process. Not to mention, as the Hawaii Supreme Court did back in 1993, that the government should have a damn good reason for discriminating against gay and lesbian couples.

The Communist government of Vietnam has no laws on the books criminalizing homosexuality, and no laws explicitly forbidding same-sex unions. They allow gay pride parades in public arenas, often with the support of the locals. Setting aside any moral squeamishness, they are trying to decide whether or not to legalize what is already a publicly practiced and widely accepted lifestyle, and make life a little simpler for everybody. Sounds a little like the United States, right? The bottom line for the Vietnamese Justice Department is this: these activities pose no tangible threat to normal government activities; as such, maybe they should just be legalized once and for all. Sounds like something that could happen for the United States? I can only hold tight to my rainbow flag and hope for the best.

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Image source: Times Dispatch