LGBTIQ Advocates Urge Same-Sex Marriage Reform

Civil society organizations have urged the Cambodian government to legalize same-sex marriage by amending the Constitution.​ Photo from Rainbow Community Kampuchea-rock.

Cambodia urged to meet UN recommendations

PHNOM PENH--Civil society organizations have urged the Cambodian government to legalize same-sex marriage by amending the Constitution.

However, the government says this is not possible unless the LGBTIQ community is widely accepted by the public.

Same-sex weddings are legal in Cambodia but the marriages are not recognized officially.

On Monday, 16 civil society organizations issued a statement calling on the government to implement recommendations Cambodia accepted in 2019 during the third Universal Periodic Review of the United Nation Human Rights Council.

This calls for protection of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer (LGBTIQ) people.

The recommendations center on legal reforms, including revising Article 45 of the Constitution to ensure legal marriage for LGBTIQ couples; implementing non-discrimination legislation and practices based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics (SOGIESC); and passing legislation that allows transgender to be legally recognized as a gender.

“Based on our follow-up and monitoring work since 2019, we observe that the Cambodian government has not yet taken significant concrete actions to advance the process of legal reforms necessary for the full implementation of the SOGIESC rights recommendations accepted by Cambodia at its third UPR,” the statement read.

Justice Ministry Chin Malin said law revisions happened as society evolves, which means when the mindset of Cambodian people has switched.

“Legalizing same-sex marriage is not yet possible,” he said.

“Law amendment depends on the changes that happen within the social context. It depends on the LGBTIQ population themselves, whether they can be a role model for the public to learn from as well as admire their efforts, works or personalities.

“Therefore, when there is acceptance from their family, the community or the whole nation, politicians and legislators will consider revising the law according to the social context.”

He said  the government has always helped protect and support LGBTIQ people in Cambodia, adding same-sex marriage is not a criminal offense in Cambodian law.

“The government has educated people and spread awareness among family, friends, or community to not use violence of any forms on the LGBTIQ population,” Malin said.

“We don’t prohibit them from holding any events or living together. Moreover, Cambodia does not consider their marriage illegal while some countries consider same-sex marriage a criminal offense. The Cambodian government never takes legal action against them.”

However, the statement said that there is still discrimination against LGBTIQ people​ due to a lack of recognition from the law.

“LGBTIQ people in Cambodia continue to face various forms of legal and social discrimination, in large part due to the exclusion of same-sex couples from being able to marry under the law and the lack of explicit legal protections against discrimination based on SOGIESC in employment, health and education sectors, as well as due to the lack of legal gender recognition for transgender people,” the statement said.

Chin Malin said the government will continue its effort to promote the rights of the LGBTIQ population and stop violence and discrimination against them in their family, educational institutions, workplaces, and all society.

Ly Pisey, co-founder and coordinator of Rainbow Community Kampuchea Organization (RoCK), said the LGBTIQ population needs legal protection in terms of equality and equity in the community and family. Any activities of same-sex couple that require legal documents are still hard to carry out, she said.

An example was child adoption and registration of birth certificate for their children.

“In the marriage law, only couples with different sexes are accepted and have the rights to adopt children because they have marriage certificates,” Pisey said.

“What about us? It is our civil right to build a family just like ordinary citizens. What can we do to apply our application to the court requesting legal adoption?”

She added that although LGBTIQ couples can adopt children unofficially, they still struggle to have their names registered on birth certificates.

“It is hard for us because it is uncertain which one of the same-sex couples is a mother or a father,” she said. “Our children need birth certificates to receive education and grow up in the society just like the children who have parents of different sexes. That is what we want for our kids, but we don’t even have the ability to do so.”

What the LGBTIQ population needs are the fundamental rights of Cambodian citizens to be protected by the Constitution, Pisey said.

However, she noted efforts of the government to protect LGBTIQ people, which has significantly helped the LGBTIQ population in many ways. She also understood that the government’s priority is combating the COVID-19 outbreak, but the LGBTIQ community will continue to discuss their concerns with government officials.

“It is all right if the law cannot be amended, but we want the government to form a constitutional council in charge of legal explanation, which they have to explain to the public that same-sex marriage is not prohibited and illegal,” said Pisey.

Chin Malin said the government will strive as much as possible to protect and promote the rights of the LGBTIQ population.

Ly Pisey said if the request was granted, the LGBTIQ population would finally be able to enjoy their full rights as Cambodian citizens, adding that the wishes of the old generation of LGBTIQ couples would come true.

“The old couples said that even they didn’t get to enjoy the legal marriage or rights, at least, they could help their next generation to be able to enjoy their lives,” she said.

“We won’t be often discriminated against and can fully participate in the society as well as receive enough social services. We are also Cambodian, and we just want to be accepted and treated as normal citizens. So, people should stop discrimination and live in harmony.”

Phin Veha, a senior Law student majoring at the Royal University of Law and Economics, said changes must be advocated to keep up with the fast-evolving world. Allowing same-sex marriage would promote the fundamental right of people and value differences, he said.

“Legalizing this sort of marriage promotes diversity of sexual orientation, fosters social unity, and reinforces gender awareness. Above all, it also helps minimize conflicts caused by activists advocating social changes,” Veha said.

“They were born with different aspects of sexual orientation and thus they have to live up their lives to fulfill their needs too. People should be more open-minded and willing to open doors for changes according to what’s right or wrong.”

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