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Vietnam weighs marriage equality

HANOI, Vietnam -- The Communist government of Vietnam, not know for a stellar record on human rights, nonetheless is considering whether to allow same-sex couples to marry, according to The Associated Press.

Vietnam could become the first Asian nation to provide full equality for its LGBT citizens.

The Communist government of Cuba has also warmed up on the idea of LGBT equality.

Still, the move by Vietnam has startled LGBT advocates in Asia. Vien Tanjung, an Indonesian gay-rights activist, told AP:

"I think everyone is surprised. Even if it's not successful it's already making history. For me, personally, I think it's going to go through."

In recent years, Vietnam has focused on tourism in an effort to boost its battered economy, and Westerners including from the United States have been visiting the nation.

Vietnam's state-run media is tightly controlled and toes the party line, but in recent years has been reporting on LGBT issues in newspapers and on television. Vietnam's first publicized same-sex marriage got enormous attention, and a video of the ceremony went viral on the Internet.

AP reported that Vietnam's legal system is now having to deal with disputes between same-sex couples involving adoption, property ownership and inheritance:

"I think, as far as human rights are concerned, it's time for us to look at the reality," Justice Minister Ha Hung Cuong said Tuesday in an online chat broadcast on national TV and radio. "The number of homosexuals has mounted to hundreds of thousands. It's not a small figure. They live together without registering marriage. They may own property. We, of course, have to handle these issues legally."

In another milestone, the first-ever gay Pride parade will kick off on Aug. 5 in Hanoi, the nation's capital.

Whether the proposal for marriage equality goes anywhere in Vietnam depends various government agencies, public opinion surveys and a vote by the National Assembly in May 2013. If the proposal clears all those hurdles, the national parliament must then pass the bill by a majority vote.

Marriage equality is legal in Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain and Sweden. In the U.S., marriage equality is recognized in Connecticut, D.C., Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont and by the Coquille and Suquamish tribes. In Mexico, same-sex marriage is legal in the Federal District of Mexico, dominated by Mexico City.