LGBT+ Community Launches Marriage Campaign

Screenshot from Facebook

Activists push for change in public acceptance

PHNOM PENH--The LGBT+ community has launched a campaign called “I accept” to promote legal marriage and equal rights of same-sex couples in Cambodia, while the government continues its dialogue with the community.

To celebrate the 73rd international Human Rights Day, Cambodian Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT+) communities and civil society organizations launched the campaign on Dec. 9

It aims to stimulate official recognition of equal marriage of LGBT+ couples, in line with the commitment by the government during the third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2019.

Say Seaklay, campaign manager at Rainbow Community Kampuchea (RoCK), said the campaign aims also to spread public awareness about equal rights for LGBT+ people, especially among parents. It contributes to encouraging acceptance of and eliminating discrimination against the community, he said.

“This campaign is launched following the UPR, in which the government has accepted the nine recommendations including same-sex marriage,” he said. “If possible, we want to achieve our goal before the end of the third circle of UPR. However, we will strive to work closely with the government.”

These accepted recommendations on SOGIESC rights focused on three main legal and policy reforms: amending Article 45 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia to enable legal marriage equality for LGBTI couples; enacting laws and policies guaranteeing non-discrimination based on SOGIESC, and enacting legislation allowing legal gender recognition for transgender people.

In Sept. 2021, the LGBT+ community and civil society organizations called on the government to legalize same-sex marriage by amending the constitution.

The government says this would not be feasible unless the LGBT+ group was accepted by the general population. Same-sex weddings are legal in Cambodia but the marriages are not recognized officially.

Seaklay said the campaign would run until the community achieves the goal of fully legal same-sex marriage and the LGBT+ population is widely accepted by the public.

“Some people cannot celebrate their weddings because the local authorities do not allow the celebration of the ceremony,” he said. “It is because there is no official law to prove that the ceremony is legal. When there is no law, the LGBT+ population will continue to face difficulties.”

The third cycle of UPR started in 2019 and now is in the mid-period. Seaklay said the third cycle might end in two years, so the community has to strive for advocacy and further discussion with the government.

“We will try to work, through all kinds of means, to reach the public within this campaign,” he said.

The campaign is facilitated by Rainbow Community Kampuchea (RoCK), with the support from coalition, including Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR); Gender and Development for Cambodia (GADC); Just Associates South East Asia (JASS); Love is Diversity; Micro-Rainbow International Foundation-Cambodia; Reproductive Health Association of Cambodia (RHAC); Prumsodun Ok & NATYARASA; and Vuth Lyno, artistic director at Sa Sa Art Projects.

During the campaign launch ceremony, there was a round table dialogue with government representatives, including the Cambodian Human Rights Committee (CHRC) and the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Women's Affairs.

Say Seaklay said the discussion was a continuation of the UPR mid-term reporting period and discussions that took place in 2018 and 2019, and most recently in September 2021on the joint statement. The government will continue its discussion with the community and keep reviewing the situation of the LGBT+ population, he said.

“It is a step to reaching our goal, and further cooperation and discussion are needed,” he said.  

Keo Remy, president of the Cambodian Human Rights Committee (CHRC), said the government needs time for the public to absorb education of LGBT+ human rights before deciding to amend the constitution and legalize same-sex marriage.

The government has the right to accept any of the more than 100 UPR recommendations, he said, adding that accepting the recommendation related to LGBT+ does not mean that the government has to carry out its action immediately.

“However, we have the willingness to protect and promote the community,” he said. “We don’t deny but accept this. The process, however, needs more time.”

He said Cambodia is favorable for the LGBT+ population, though there is no official law, because the country does not have the death penalty while some countries consider homosexuality to be a criminal offense punishable by death.

“We are the leading country in ASEAN in promoting same-sex couples and we have been involved with the LGBT+ community countless times among families to raise awareness, especially in families,” Remy said.

Pledge with uncertainty

Although the government has voiced support for the LGBT+ community and accepted UPR recommendations, there is no significant advance that the government will adopt the law, said Lim Borin, coordinator of the Voice for Gender Equality Project at CCHR.

“Same-sex marriage, legal gender recognition rights, or non-discrimination rights are rights which are not afforded to numerous individuals within the LGBTIQ+ community, leaving many within the community vulnerable to further abuse and marginalization,” he said.

He added that failure to legalize same-sex marriage will further deprive many members of the LGBT+ community of the essential human rights and acceptance.

“It would allow stigmas against the community to continue and further marginalize LGBTIQ+ individuals from the norms of society,” said Borin.

“Protecting this right for the LGBTIQ+ community would improve their wellbeing and would overall contribute to a more inclusive and harmonious Cambodian society which reflects true Cambodian values and the vision of the Royal Government of Cambodia.”

The current situation of the LGBT+ community in Cambodia, however, has improved, despite not having official recognition, as the LGBT+ population has been able to come out and people have begun to change their attitudes toward them, Borin said.

“If we compare to the past, we see that there have been many changes in terms of society’s attitude and perception of LGBTIQ+ people,” he said. “We have recently witnessed numerous parents of LGBTIQ+ people support their LGBTIQ+ children and encourage and empower them to live their life as they truly are.”

But further commitment is still needed, he said.

Sous Narin, a mother of an LGBT+ person, said she has accepted her child for who he is but fears that he is discriminated against due to his gender identity as Cambodia has not yet amended the law to recognize them.

“I love and accept my child, all I wish for my child is that he can marry the one person that he truly loves,” she said.

“The happiness of my child is also mine as a parent. I hope the Cambodian government will allow my child to legally marry the same as other different-sex couples, living their simple lives with happiness and warmth.”

However, Remy said the time for the constitution to be amended is uncertain as it depends on the evolution of society, particularly its popular attitudes.

“All we can do is keep moving forward, encouraging, and promoting awareness,” he said.

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