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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Parties open to gay marriage

Beth Virak, a representative for the LGBTIQ community, speaks about stigma and hardships faced by community members at a forum on LGBTIQ issues yesterday in Phnom Penh.
Beth Virak, a representative for the LGBTIQ community, speaks about stigma and hardships faced by community members at a forum on LGBTIQ issues yesterday in Phnom Penh. Hong Menea

Parties open to gay marriage

Cambodia's opposition parties promised to consider making gay marriage legal in the Kingdom yesterday during a roundtable event with rights groups and HIV-affected communities, ahead of Sunday’s commune elections vote.

The discourse, organised by sexual health NGO Khana, was snubbed by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), but was attended by representatives of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), Funcinpec, the Khmer National United Party (KNUP), the League for Democracy Party (LDP) and the Grassroots Democracy Party (GDP).

Beth Virak, a representative for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer (LGBTIQ) community, spoke of the hardships she and others endured due to lingering stigma, and urged improved access to health care at the commune level.

“Please do not put blame on us, do not discriminate against us . . . We have capacity and can work well, [but] due to thediscrimination we drop out of school or our career,” she said.

“Please don’t think that lesbians or men who have sex with men are bad people.” Each party was also asked if they would legalise gay marriage if they won the 2018 national poll.

The question came on the heels of a joint statement from more than 40 civil society organisations asking Cambodia to become the second country in Asia to legalise same-sex marriage, in the wake of Taiwan legalising such unions last week.

“Although the legal situation remains murky, the time has come for Cambodia to join Taiwan and the twenty-two countries across the globe which have already explicitly granted all of their citizens the right to marry,” the statement reads.

Although there is no law explicitly prohibiting marriage between members of the same sex in the Kingdom, the constitution still defines marriage as “a solemn contract between a man and a woman”.

The largest opposition party, the CNRP, said it would put equal marriage to a referendum. “Please be informed that in a democratic country, [with] things that cause cultural sensitivity, the political party does not dare to make a decision, but hands this over to the people to do a referendum,” said Suon Rida. “If the people agree, the CNRP will ratify.”

peakers at a forum where political parties discussed their stance on LGBTIQ issues yesterday in Phnom Penh_31 05 2017.
peakers at a forum where political parties discussed their stance on LGBTIQ issues yesterday in Phnom Penh_31 05 2017. Hong Menea

Cham Bunthet, an adviser to the GDP, said the party favoured liberalism and would respect the will of the people, while Phorn Chantha from Funcinpec was open to amending the law.

“We cannot stop the feeling of love,” said the KNUP’s Sou Suth Ratana. “Once the party wins the election, we will take it into consideration.”

While the LDP’s Soy Chivoan said the people could make demands of their lawmakers, decisions should still “be based on morality”. “If the lawmakers see what you demand is not right, they can correct you and tell you,” he said.

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said he was unaware of yesterday’s event, but noted that the CPP had no plans to change the law. However, if a formal request was made to the government, it would be considered.

Nuon Sidara, sexual orientation project coordinator at the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, meanwhile, urged better psychological support at the commune level and concrete action from parties.

“We want to see implementation,” he said.

Additional reporting by Erin Handley

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