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(New York) – The National Assembly should amend Vietnam’s Marriage and Family Law to guarantee same-sex couples all the rights enjoyed by other couples, Human Rights Watch said today. Those rights include marriage, registration procedures, and full legal protections with regard to property and children.  

The National Assembly is currently in session to discuss amendments to Vietnam’s constitution and other issues. The most recently published agenda sets November 29, 2013, as the last day of this session, although the schedule has been subject to change and could be extended.

“Vietnam is advancing rights for same-sex couples, but still needs to take the final step to guarantee marriage equality for all,” said Brad Adams, Asia director . “Ambiguous laws can stigmatize LGBT relationships. Officials should have the courage to establish marriage equality in Vietnamese law.”

Vietnam has a vibrant and growinglesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) movement, which also appears to enjoy widespread public support. According to reports in the Vietnamese media, several government, ministerial and other, agencies support the right to same-sex marriage. Responding to this, the government issued Decree No. 110/2013/ND-CP, dated September 24, 2013, overturning provisions in a previous decree that included a fine for organizing or participating in a same-sex marriage ceremony. The new decree came into effect on November 12, 2013.

A proposed government amendment to the 2000 Law on Marriage and the Family now before the National Assembly furthers this by removing provisions outlawing same-sex marriage. However, the suggested changes fall short of legalizing such partnerships, making it unclear whether LGBT couples will be able to register their marriages with the authorities.

Vietnam’s Marriage and Family Law should be reformulated to remove all such ambiguities and otherwise to prohibit all forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation, perceived sexual orientation, or gender identity, Human Rights Watch said. If the law is not clarified it could undermine the right of same-sex couples to equality under other laws and administrative regulations affecting everyday life in Vietnamese society, and thus in their dealings with the courts and government officials.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Vietnam is a state-party, includes international human rights obligations and commitments to not to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The United Nations Human Rights Committee has affirmed that the ICCPR reference to “sex” in these articles “is to be taken as including sexual orientation,” and the United NationsCommittee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has stated that such “guarantees of equality and non-discrimination should be interpreted, to the greatest extent possible, in ways which facilitate the full protection of economic, social and cultural rights.” 

These human rights principles are reinforced in the recommendations made in the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights report to the UN Human Rights Council on discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, as circulated by the General Assembly on November 17, 2011, and resolution 17/19 of the Human Rights Council dated June 17, 2011. Vietnam joined the Human Rights Council on November 12, 2013, and as a member is obliged to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.”

“Vietnamese media have expressed concern that the national assembly will leave legalized marriage a ‘distant dream’,” Adams said. “The government should take the initiative to make it a happy reality, making Vietnam a leader in Asia on LGBT rights.”

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