Social networking sites were abuzz two weeks ago with photos of a wedding between two women. The women unofficially ‘married’ during the same week in the presence of both of their families and friends. They posted their photos and a video clip on their Facebook pages and YouTube and received widespread coverage on online news websites.
Diem Huyen, captioned ‘Quang Minh’, appears with short hair, wearing glasses and a tuxedo suit driving ‘his’ bride, the charmingly wedding-dressed Thuy Linh on the back of a vintage Honda motorbike. The photo, was taken on the historic cantilever Long Bien Bridge, a popular romantic location for couples taking wedding photos.
Although their parents and friends gave the marriage, the first between two homosexuals in Ha Noi, their blessing, it surprised a lot of people.
A friend of the couple, who shot the girls’ wedding photo album, was among the most surprised.
“I’d not heard of any same-sex marriage before in Viet Nam and I was very surprised when they asked me do take the photos,” said the photographer. “But the love they showed during the shoot really changed my view.”
Linh, the bride, is a fresher at Ha Noi’s Raffles International School, and her ‘husband’ is a manager of a Ha Noi-based communication and advertisement company. They went to high school together and have been in long-term relationship before deciding to marry.
Their marriage is not the first between homosexuals in Viet Nam. Two men from a Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta province wed each other ten years ago and were heavily criticised. It seems a decade later that the public seem more open to same-sex marriages but many people continue to worry about the unorthodox marriage as they believe the women are too young to have taken such a big decision.
Although gay and lesbian behaviour in Viet Nam is not outlawed, the law does not recognise same-sex marriages. The Constitution states that marriage shall conform to the principles of free consent and equality between a husband and wife, and a marriage law approved in 2000 repealed previous legislation that ruled out all forms of cohabitation.
In Viet Nam in particular, and Asia generally, lesbians and gay people are still not widely accepted. This social conservatism is believed to be a result of the Confucian emphasis on family and tradition. Homosexuality has been described as a disease and “deviant behaviour that is incompatible with good morals and time-honoured customs.” A 2001 survey found that 82 per cent felt that homosexuality was never acceptable. In 2002, the media was awash with stories describing homosexuality as a “social evil” on par with drug use, prostitution and gambling, and proposed laws to allow the arrest of gay couples, a tidal wave that dissipated with social acceptance towards lesbians and gays grew. The biggest problem homosexual couples face is public opposition, says psychologist Dinh Doan, “And that is the biggest challenge for them to stay together.” The psychologist says since same-sex marriages have not been legalised they do not have the same long-standing ties and therefore the relationships are more prone to falling apart when faced by challenges. There are many lesbian and gay couples living together without being married and by doing so avoid catching public attention and criticism, according to Doan.
Although a majority of the public is not welcoming to the homosexual community, positive attitudes are growing in combination with social development that has contributed to people becoming more aware of out-of-date or backwards ideas.
In 2000, Bui Anh Tuan’s novel “A World without Women” was the first fictional Vietnamese book to deal extensively with gay people. In 2007 the story was turned into a television series. In the same year, HCM City University of Pedagogy conducted the poll of 300 pupils at three junior high and high schools and discovered that 80 per cent of pupils all said “no” when asked “is homosexuality bad?”
Film director Le Hoang, took a more liberal tone when stating that while homosexuality is a mental illness, “qualities such as morality, talent and dignity do not depend on sexuality.” A third-year student from Thang Long, Nguyen Thi Phuong, concurs, saying that lesbians and gays don’t make a conscious decision, just like people cannot choose their parents. She calls on people to welcome the contribution of gay and lesbians in every-day life, not criticise through ignorance. — VNS