Tung says the issue of marriage rights came into focus last year when informal same-sex wedding parties were broken up by local authorities in the
provinces of Ca Mau and Kien Giang. The media covered the stories extensively--and sympathetically--and gay rights have remained in the spotlight ever since.
"This is the result of a long process--the fruit that we've been cultivating so far. I'm surprised at how fast it is, but I'm not surprised that we've reached here," he said.
Another reason for the acceptance of the LGBT community, suggests iSee's Binh, is that Vietnam's predominant religions aren't outspoken against
homosexuality. According to some estimates, over 80 percent of Vietnamese identify as Buddhist and around 8 percent are Christian, mainly Catholic, but the
influence of the church in public affairs is muted.
Also, there has long been at least some LGBT presence in the entertainment world. Vietnam has a well-known transgender singer and actor, Cindy Thai Tai,
and several other celebrities are widely considered to be gay, even if they haven't officially come out. "They do not go public at all and it is not
necessary because people just take for granted that they are gay," is how one Vietnamese friend puts it.
Still, it's slightly ironic that a country with an "abysmal human rights record," according to Human Rights Watch, is simultaneously a leader in the region
in advancing gay rights. HRW's 2013 World Report singles Vietnam out for repression of political dissent, curtailing freedom of expression and religion,
and lack of an independent judiciary. It's a bit like coming home with four Fs and one A+ on your report card.
Clearly, gay rights are not seen as a serious threat to anyone in power. Whether the issue remains compartmentalized or if there will be some kind of
spillover into other areas of human rights will be interesting to watch. But for now, the march towards LGBT equality is starting to feel inevitable.
On the legislative front, the next key indicator will be coming soon. In May, Vietnam's governing body, the National Assembly, holds its semi-annual
meeting. On the agenda this time are revisions to Vietnam's constitution, and Binh says they are pressing to have current language, which defines marriage
as between a man and woman, changed to gender-neutral. He says that will be a bellwether of how far the country is ready to go.
Most observers believe the marriage issue still won't come up for final legal review until next year. But Binh is confident some progress will be made,
even if same-sex marriage is not fully legalized. "I'm quite sure that they will drop the article that prohibits same sex marriage in Vietnam," he said.
"But what recognition there will be, we don't know. I think they might provide some legal protection in terms of property, in terms of representation and
probably in terms of children, like adoption. They may not legalize same sex marriage yet, but some kind of legal protection will be provided for same sex
couples. That's my expectation."
According to Tung of ICS, no matter what happens with same-sex marriage this time around, gay rights activists are playing the long game. "I always say
that when you win, you win--and if you lose, you still win," he said. "This is a great opportunity for us to educate our own community and educate this
society. The law actually is not the goal. The goal is to reach equality so we wouldn't face any discrimination--so you can live as who you are."
In Vietnam, no less.