Hundreds of people gathered in the center of Hanoi Sunday morning to watch a staged wedding ceremony between two same-sex couples ahead of a planned parliamentary debate on the topic next month.
Under the heat of an autumn morning in Hanoi, two same-sex couples dressed as brides and grooms took part in wedding ceremonies in front of around 300 people waving rainbow flags and holding colored balloons.
The couples exchanged rings and threw bouquets, much to the crowd’s delight. One of the brides, Linh, gave a short speech.
She said she was very happy to be able to take part in a wedding with the woman she loves.
The event was part of the “Toi Dong Y” festival, which translates as “I do,” or “I agree”, organized by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) groups across the country. In two weeks over 52,000 people have “liked” a Facebook page
set up for the event.
One participant, 18-year-old Truong Duc Anh, said same-sex marriage is an important topic for Vietnam.
He said he believes love does not have a wrong or a right side and the most important thing is that society treats people equally when it comes to love.
The festival is being held ahead of a planned debate on revisions to the Marriage and Family Law at the National Assembly on November 5.
The draft does not include the legalization of same-sex marriage, but removes the article banning them in the current law and includes provisions for same-sex couples who live together.
One of the organizers - Le Quang Binh, director of the Institute for Studies of Society, Economy and Environment (iSEE) - said he believes same-sex marriage will be legalized eventually.
"I believe in people and I think that when everybody speaks out, everyone has to listen whoever you are. So that’s why we do it this way. We mobilize public opinion, LGBT, students, young people so when people speak their opinion, politicians will have to listen," Binh said. "And I believe that politicians are also human beings. They need time to understand."
Attitudes towards the LGBT community have changed greatly over the last few years in Vietnam, where belief in traditional patriarchal family values remains the norm. Vietnam's LGBT community has grown more confident in its activism, even conducting training workshops for local journalists to improve their representation of gay people in local media.
Last year, hundreds of people cycled through the center of Hanoi in August for the country’s first Gay Pride parade. An Internet sitcom (situation comedy) called “My Gay Best Friends” went viral, attracting over 1.5 million viewers, and a publisher released the country’s first biography of a transgender person.
"I think a lot of change has taken place already...Before people thought it was sensitive so they didn’t want to talk about this. But now people are willing to talk about this. Many people support and many people oppose but at least the social debate takes place. We believe that’s necessary for social change," stated Binh.
Binh said he thinks legalizing same-sex marriage would give the country a big boost in terms of Vietnam’s commitment to international human rights standards. The country has received growing criticism in recent years for restrictions on freedom of speech and the increasing numbers of political bloggers receiving jail terms.