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More Asian nations open to same-sex marriage

Conservative countries with strong family values are gradually accepting LGBTQ rights

More Asian nations open to same-sex marriage

Conservative Asian countries are now more accepting of homosexuality. (Image: Unsplash)

Irrespective of country, religion, region and economic development, conservative Asian nations are starting to accept same-sex marriages despite holding family values in great esteem.

LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning) people have already made their presence felt across Asia if laws pieced together by many Asian governments are any indication.

And with Pope Francis recently giving his support to people with different sexual orientations, attitudes in Asia are slowly changing.

With many Asian governments passing laws respecting homosexuality, procreative sexuality is no more a social duty, while heterosexual marriage is often not considered incompatible with a homosexual life.

While the LGBTQ community has been assertive in the region, discrimination and stigma by Asian societies, which swear by traditional family values, still linger on.

Taiwan legalized same-sex marriages last year. However, gay couples do not enjoy the same rights as heterosexual couples.

As voters had previously rejected same-sex marriage in a series of referendums, the self-ruled island's reputation as Asia's beacon of homosexuality was dealt a heavy blow.

As a result, Taiwan enacted a special law and became the first Asian government to legalize same-sex marriage in May 2019.

India shed its centuries-old legislation prohibiting homosexuality and decriminalized it in 2018. Discussions are underway in the Hindu-majority nation about the possibility of legalizing same-sex marriage.

In India, laws regulating marriages vary according to religion. However, there have been many instances in the South Asian country of trans couples getting married in religious ceremonies.

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Thailand decriminalized homosexuality in 1956 and it approved a draft bill in July this year that gives same-sex unions the same benefits as heterosexual marriages in the Buddhist country known for its sexual freedom.

Last year Hong Kong revised several articles of legislation that criminalized homosexuality, while same-sex couples enjoy equal rights under the city's inheritance laws, passed in September this year.

Vietnam has emerged as a progressive country on homosexuality. In 2013, the communist nation abolished fines for homosexual weddings and allowed same-sex couples to live together.

Two years later, Vietnam decriminalized same-sex marriage. However, it stopped short of fully recognizing same-sex unions.

Nepal became the first country in Asia to register its citizens under a third gender category in its 2011 census. The same clause is available in Bangladesh for transgender people, but homosexuality is still against the law in the Muslim-majority country.

Being a homosexual is not a crime in China, where it has not been classified as a mental disorder since 2001. A vibrant LGBT community in the communist nation is seeking legal approval for same-sex unions.

Homosexual sex has been legal in Japan since 1880, although same-sex unions are not. Of late, many courts have awarded same-sex couples similar rights to married couples.

Homosexuality is not illegal in South Korea.  However, since 2003, it is no longer considered as "harmful and obscene."

The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has approved a bill to legalize homosexuality. On Dec. 10, its parliament voted in favor of scrapping the Penal Code that criminalizes "unnatural sex" in the Buddhist country of some 775,000 people that has replaced gross domestic product with a "gross national happiness" index as an alternative to indicate economic progress.

In a region where marrying the opposite sex is seen as a family duty to continue the blood line, many Asian countries have made great strides in accepting homosexuality. 

Asian nations are changing laws because most people in their conservative societies no longer consider homosexuality a "vice against nature."

Papal backing

The Catholic Church has always maintained its disapproval of same-sex relationships and its legalization, terming it "against the rule of nature" as "God created us as men and women."

However, Pope Francis recently hit the headlines when he allegedly supported same-sex civil unions in a documentary. It was projected as a deviation from the Vatican's stand against any legal recognition of homosexual unions.

"Homosexual people have the right to be in a family. They are children of God," Francis said in one of his sit-down interviews for the film. "What we have to have is a civil union law; that way, they are legally covered."

The Vatican officially clarified that the pope had not deviated from the Church's official stance but was asserting that families should not cast out people with different sexual orientations.

While serving as archbishop of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis supported gay couples. However, the Jesuit pontiff had never come out in the open to advocate civil unions as pope.

"Who am I to judge gay people?" Pope Francis reportedly told journalists on a flight back to Rome from Rio de Janeiro after World Youth Day in July 2013 when asked if same-sex unions are sinful.

The papal thumbs-up has been a morale booster for homosexual people in Asia and around the world.

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