Recent developments have stoked optimism that 2015 could be the year that heralds a promising new era for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (“LGBT”) rights in Cambodia.
As a whole, the status of LGBT rights in Cambodia is in a somewhat confused state; whilst there are no explicit laws that directly discriminate on the basis of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (“SOGI”), equally no legislation exists that provides for equality. Furthermore, the absence of legislation is compounded by societal forces which are often unaccommodating to a person’s SOGI, frequently resulting in discrimination.
Globally, a number of significant events in 2015 highlight the worldwide advancement in the recognition of LGBT rights. Particularly noteworthy was the decision in June of the US Supreme Court that the refusal to grant marriage certificates to same-sex couples was unconstitutional, thereby conferring legality nationwide on same-sex marriage. Furthermore, the following month Italy incurred the wrath of the European Court of Human Rights, the court ruling the country’s prohibition on recognizing civil unions or same-sex marriages constitutes a violation of human rights. Meanwhile, 2015 also saw the decriminalization of homosexuality in Mozambique, making it one of the few African countries where same-sex relationships are legal.
Perhaps the most significant development was the passage of Nepal’s new constitution, which enshrines into law the recognition of genders other than male and female, and bans discrimination by state and judicial authorities against those from “sexual and gender minorities.” In doing so, Nepal became the first ever country in Asia to adopt equal rights for LGBT people into its constitution.
It is hoped that events in Nepal can prove a catalyst for change in Cambodia. Indeed, even before the adoption of Nepal’s constitution, there were tangible signs indicating the Cambodian Government may be slowly becoming more receptive to LGBT rights. In particular, the 2007 update of the Civil Code which removed the explicit ban on same-sex marriage and adoption can be seen as an example of this changing dynamic.
In response to Nepal’s news, a government spokesman affirmed that same-sex couples were free to marry in Cambodia. When challenged by civil society organizations and businesses, including CCHR, to introduce specific legislation pertaining to LGBT people, the government responded by stating that the LGBT community should continue to petition for such a law if they want to achieve its realization.
It is hoped that in response to such pressure from civil society, the Cambodian government will seize upon the opportunity to become a beacon for the furtherance of LGBT rights in Asia and at the same time boost the country’s international image and economic interests. Maybe, just maybe, 2015 will prove to be the turning point………
James Leach, CCHR International Intern