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Unlikely Vietnam considers same-sex marriage

BY MARGIE MASON, ASSOCIATED PRESS

HANOI, Vietnam -- Dinh Thi Hong Loan grasps her girlfriend's hand, and the two gaze into each other's love-struck eyes. Smiling, they talk about their upcoming wedding - how they'll exchange rings and toast the beginning of their lives together.

The lesbians' marriage ceremony in the Vietnamese capital won't be officially recognized, but that could soon change. Vietnam's Communist government is now considering whether to allow same-sex couples to marry or legally register and receive rights - positioning the country to be the first in Asia to do so.

"Our love for each other is real and nothing changes regardless of whether the law is passed or not," said Loan, 31. "But when it is passed, we will definitely go get registered. I can't wait!"

Even longtime gay-rights activists are stunned by the Justice Ministry's proposal to include same-sex couples in its overhaul of the country's marriage law. No one knows what form it will take or whether it will survive long enough to be debated before the National Assembly next year, but supporters say the fact that it's even being considered is a victory in a region where simply being gay can result in jail sentences or whippings with a rattan cane.

"I think everyone is surprised," said Vien Tanjung, an Indonesian gay-rights activist. "Even if it's not successful it's already making history. For me, personally, I think it's going to go through."

Vietnam seems an unlikely champion of gay-rights issues. It is routinely lambasted by the international community over its dismal human rights record, often locking up political dissidents who call for democracy or religious freedom. Up until just a few years ago, homosexuality was labeled as a "social evil" alongside drug addiction and prostitution.

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