The Communist government of Vietnam is considering legalizing same-sex marriage – if it does so, it will become the first Asian nation to pass the measure.
The country’s justice ministry said it will mull a decision on the matter as part of its plan to overhaul Vietnam’s marriage laws.
"I think, as far as human rights are concerned, it's time for us to look at the reality," justice minister Ha Hung Cuong said on national TV.
“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."
Gay campaigners in Vietnam, Associated Press reported, are stunned by the announcement, citing that even if the measure is rejected by the National Assembly next year, the fact that government officials are even mentioning it is a kind of victory.
"I think everyone is surprised," said Vien Tanjung, an Indonesian gay rights activist, according to AP.
"Even if it's not successful, it's already making history. For me personally, I think it's going to go through."
Vietnam is an odd country to considering legalizing gay marriage since it has a poor record on human rights, frequently criticized by western activists for harassing and jailing any kind of dissidents and people seeking religious freedom. In the past, the Communist state has labeled homosexually a “social evil” on par with prostitution and drug addiction.
Le Quang Binh, head of the nonprofit Institute for Studies of Society, Economy and Environment, which is consulting the government on the marriage law, told media: “Some people told me if Vietnam could legalize it, it would be very good example for other counties to follow. People think that talking about it is a big step forward already ... I hope it will lead to more openness or tolerance for gays and lesbians in Vietnam."
Across the world, only eleven nations have legalized gay marriage. Homosexuality is essentially illegal and punishable by a prison sentences across Asia, particualry in Islamic countries like Malaysia, Iran and Pakistan.
In India, homosexuality has only been decriminalized since 2009, while same-sex marriage is banned. China legalized same-sex sexual activity in 1997, but does not permit gay marriage.
There are, however, rumblings of change in certain Asian nations.
In Vietnam itself, a gay pride march (believed to be the first ever in the country) will be held in Hanoi on August 5. Gay movements are also gathering steam in Singapore, Thailand, Nepal and Taiwan.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.