AS well as being a haven ordiscerning diners, PhnomPenh’s Secret Room is alsothe spot where topics o theday are oten thrashed outpassionately by the city’smost interesting people. A recent trip to that irre-sistible hideaway providedconrmation o this when thediscussion o a mixed group veered onto that ever stimu-lating topic – sexual proclivi-ties.Since several participants were o Antipodean heritage,it was no surprise that they became most vocal aboutNew Zealand’s decision lastmonth to legalise same-sexmarriage.In hindsight, aside romthe intensity o the opposing views, what was most striking was that no one noted a sig-nicant development on thisront, namely the plan to allow gay marriage in Vietnam. Yes, you heard right. Thisinitiative was not taken in a politically correct, liberal de-mocracy like New Zealand orSweden or Canada, but in Vi-etnam, which has one o the world’s most authoritarianregimes.However, while harshly repressive on the politicalront, Vietnam’s ruling Com-munist Party does permit a degree o social latitude thatshames much o the rest o the region.O course, the primary motive or this is sel-sur- vival: Let the masses drink and cavort when they are soinclined and can aord it, because that will keep theirminds o the inept peror-mance o their government.But let’s ignore the motiveor now. The act is that theassertion by Deputy Ministeror Health Nguyen Viet Tienthat Vietnam aims to legalisesame-sex marriage as soon aspossible was worthy o un-qualied applause. And it is not oten thatsomething like that can besaid about Vietnam.However, in this case itcan, especially given thatTien’s bold declamatory statement was endorsed by his minister, which meantthat it must also be support-ed by the Politburo, the rul-ing party’s supreme body.“As human beings, homo-sexuals have the same rightsas everyone else to live, eat,love and be loved,” Tien told a government conclave discuss-ing the country’s Marriageand Family Law last month. Wow. I he had been amongthe passionate little group inthe Secret Room glasses wouldhave been raised to him, along with shouts o “Hat’s o!”In a way, his initiativeshould not come as too mucho a surprise, since homosex-ual relations are technically not illegal at present in Viet-nam and discreet gay bars doexist.Indeed, in August last year, the nation’s rst gay pride march took place with-out any untoward incidents,and an online gay soap opera has a large ollowing.That said, however, hom-ophobia remains strongamong Vietnam’s growingmiddle class and more espe-cially its rural masses andthat is why the party has soar maintained its ban on gay marriage.But as Tien’s orthrightstatement indicated, changeis clearly aoot – and indeedis already underway.This month, the National Assembly in Hanoi is sched-uled to consider the legalisa-tion o gay unions.It is an astonishing stepand contrasts markedly withgrowing anti-gay sentimentacross the rest o the region.In Malaysia, or example,the ourth annual Sexual Di- versity Festival was vetoed be-cause the authorities claimed– without any clear evidence– that it was "a threat to publicorder”.Human Rights Watch, theinternational non-govern-ment organisation, said theestival ban showed that a virulent homophobic mind-set still pervades the Malay-sian bureaucracy. And so it does. Malaysia’srabidly anti-gay laws encour-age discrimination and areused to prosecute sexual acts between consenting adults,particularly those who haveupset the political leadership.Similar antediluvian ac-tions and paranoid state-ments have been made by leading gures in Indonesia,Malaysia and the Philippines.In neighbouring Vietnam,however, the reverse is takingplace and the governmenthas already scrapped nes orsame-sex couples who holdinormal weddings.I, as seems likely, Hanoiproceeds to legalise same-sexmarriage, it will become therst Asian country to do soand will gain great interna-tional kudos or it.
The local lowdown & best o the web
THE MYANMAR TIMES
MAY 20 - 26, 2013
Vietnam leads the region on same-sex debate
Model, vocalist and actress
Nan Myant Phyo Thin
was bornin 1991 in Yangon. She got her start in 2010 as a hostess at anawards ceremony, and now has 15 lm and seven song creditsto her name. As well as her successul media career, Nan MyatPhyo Thin holds a Bachelor o Medicine and Surgery (M.B.B.S),having graduated rom Yangon’s University o Medicine in 2012.
By Ei Ei Thu, Photo: Htet Aung Kyaw (Studio HAK)
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