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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Lesbians struggle against discrimination, prejudice

Lesbians struggle against discrimination, prejudice

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While not banned by law, same-sex marriages in Cambodia are often made impossible by red tape and social hostility

RICK VALENZUELA

So Vita (right), 47, and her partner Srey Mom, 50, have lived together since 1980 when they separated from their husbands.

D

ESPITE fears that same-sex marriages would degrade traditional Khmer

culture, lesbian couples in Cambodia are demanding that the government

make marrying their partner an easier proposition.

"Some women don't want to live with a man or to marry a man," said Ouk Mony, from the NGO Women's Network for Unity, who is a staunch supporter of same sex unions.

But lesbian marriages currently face a lot of "unreasonable and unknowledgeable" discrimination in the Kingdom, she added.

Neither the Cambodian marriage law nor the constitution mention whether same-sex marriage is allowed.

While the first lesbian union in recent memory occurred in 1995 and others have followed, the legal ambiguities  make same-sex marriage a complex process. Couples are sure to encounter considerable difficulty in obtaining the official trappings of marriage - certificates, documents and forms - necessary to make the union fully legal.

"Even though I have the body of a woman I consider myself a man. I have had a wife for eight years and now we live with each other," said Chock Sophorn, 26 who prides herself on being a good husband to her wife and the breadwinner of the household.

My wife’s family have forbidden us to love each other.

"I have heard people say that I and other lesbians should not be in the society. I really suffer and I cry when I hear this," she added.
"[My wife's family] have forbidden us to love each other because we don't have the ability to have children," said Chock Sophorn, adding that she hopes that with enough popular support the Cambodian marriage system could mature, as it has in several Western countries.

"I don't think that we do anything against the Khmer tradition and we will marry if the government allows us to," Chock Sophorn said. "It is my right to love someone."

So Vita, 47, who has lived with her wife for 20 years and has adopted a daughter, said that she has never regretted her decision as "my wife and I are happy," she said. The couple face widespread discrimination but "I try not to think about their hard words and I tell them that they should think how their words will impact on my feelings," So Vita said.

According to Dr Song Ngak, deputy chief for Family Health International, there are some common myths around homosexuality - for example, that it is caused by the food a mother eats during pregnancy - which need to be dispelled.

"Lesbians and gays make up 2 to 3 percent of Cambodia's population," he said. "They don't really impact on Khmer tradition. One day homosexuality will become normal like in England and other countries that have legalised same-sex marriage."

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