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Lesbians legally married in Cambodia despite no law change

Some lesbian women who have lived together for over ten years in some provinces in Cambodia could be the first legally recognized gay couples in Asia
Cambodia Pride 2012

A Cambodian LGBT rights activist said that some local authorities in the southeast Asian nation already recognize gay couples as married.

'Some local authorities give marriage certificates to lesbian couples,' said Srorn Srun facilitator for Rainbow Community Kampuchea (RoCK) in a interview with Gay Star News.

Cambodian law defines marriage as between a man and a woman only but in some provinces in the country local government officials have decided to recognize gay couples.

Some of these local government leaders will share their experiences at an IDAHO (International Day Against Homophobia) organized by RoCK as part of Cambodia Pride Week on 17 May.

There are 15 lesbian couples that Srorn knows have been issued marriage certificates in Kandal, Takeo, Prey Veng and Kampong Chhnang provinces.

'After Pride Week my job is to visit more provinces and interview gay couples who been given family books from the local authorities, because when they give you a family book it means that they are officially, legally family.'

This means that lucky lesbian women are the first same-sex couples to be legally recognized in Asia.

'In practice they are married,' said Srun. 'They have lived together for many years and the chief says "they live together for a long time already so we don't mind, we accept them".'

Srun said he thinks lesbian couples are accepted more than gay couples because they are more likely to stay in their hometown and live quiet lives.

Last year on 10 December RoCK celebrated International Human Rights Day by inviting 76 couples who have lived together for 10 to 50 years to speak about their experiences.

'Some of them said they have lived together since before the Khmer Rouge!' said Srun. 'It was really inspiring for the young people.'

The event was covered by the media and the next day the prime minister of Cambodia Hun Sen said there should be 'no discrimination against' gays and lesbians. Srun said he thinks the media coverage of the event inspired the prime minister to speak out.

But RoCK are not campaigning to legalize marriage for all gay couples in Cambodia.

'We actually don't really want to advocate for legal marriage rights because our main problem is family acceptance,' said Srun.

'This is the most important thing, because we have lots of rules and laws that are controlled by our parents in our culture. For now we want to encourage people to come out and for families to understand us.'

Srun has recently completed a piece of research looking at the social exclusion of LGBT people for the government.

'We found strong evidence that most of our friends are rejected by their families,' said Srun. 'And when we cannot live within the family we lose out on education and then if we have little education we face unemployment or low paid jobs. And then we are vulnerable to becoming sex workers or drug users.'

Cambodia Pride Week will run from 12 to 19 May. With a coming out workshop, a sports day, a blessing ceremony from Buddhist monks and for the first time a tuk tuk parade.

Last year RoCK felt that a parade would be too politically sensitive, but this year they plan to go public by decorating 20 to 30 tuk tuks with rainbow flags and slogans and to parade them through the streets.  

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