Recognition of same-sex unions in Cambodia
|Legal status of same-sex unions|
* Not yet in effect, but automatic deadline set by judicial body for same-sex marriage to become legal
Currently, Cambodia does not recognize same-sex marriage or civil unions, but does recognize a limited form of recognition ("declaration of family relationship"), which as of May 2018 is only available in 50 communes. Same-sex marriage has received support from many important figures and government organisations, including King Norodom Sihamoni, former King Norodom Sihanouk, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Women's Affairs and many legislators and political parties.
Cambodia's Constitution bans same-sex marriage by defining marriage as a union between "one husband and one wife".
The Rainbow Community Kampuchea (Khmer: សហគមន៍ឥន្ទធនូកម្ពុជា; RoCK), with the help of local authorities, has created a formal relationship registry program, called the "Declaration of Family Relationship" (Khmer: សេចក្តីថ្លែងទំនាក់ទំនងគ្រួសារ; French: déclaration de vie commune). According to RoCK, "the Declaration of Family Relationship is a civil contract between two people who are willing to be together and share responsibility taking care of the family, children and distribute the joint asset, as legal spouses do". By May 2018, the civil contract had been introduced to 50 communes in 15 provinces, and 21 couples had signed the forms.
In September 1993, the Cambodia Constituent Assembly, a special body elected in 1993, drafted a constitution for Cambodia. This Constitution defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman. In 2007, the Civil Code was amended by defining marriage as a union between "one husband" and "one wife". The provision in the Constitution related to marriage was similarly modified in 2011 and reads as follows:
Marriage shall be conducted according to conditions determined by law based on the principle of mutual consent between one husband and one wife.
Article 3 of the Law on the Marriage and Family (Khmer: ច្បាប់ស្ដីពីអាពាហ៍ពិពាហ៍ និងគ្រួសារ), enacted on 17 July 1989, reads: "A marriage is a solemn contract between a man and a woman in a spirit of love in accordance with the provisions of law and with the understanding that they cannot dissolve it as they please".
Case of one marriage
There is one recorded case of a legally valid same-sex civil marriage contraction in Cambodia. Khav Sokha and Pum Eth were married on March 12, 1995, in the village of Kro Bao Ach Kok, in Kandal Province, where they are from. Sokha said in an interview to the Phnom Penh Post, "The authorities thought it was strange, but they agreed to tolerate it because I have three children already (from a previous marriage). They said that if we were both single (and childless), we would not be allowed to get married because we could not produce children". Thus, it is a fully acknowledged marriage, with official approval, and there was not really any reaction to it. It was a popular event, with 250 people coming to the ceremony and partying, including Buddhist monks and high officials from the province.
Support from public figures
After witnessing same-sex marriages being performed in San Francisco in 2004, King Norodom Sihanouk expressed support for legalizing such unions in Cambodia. Current King Norodom Sihamoni has also expressed support for same-sex marriage.
Following the enactment of the Constitution of Nepal in September 2015, several government organisations and spokespeople made positive comments on same-sex marriage and/or partnerships. The Ministry of Interior announced the possibility to push for the legalization of same-sex marriage. The Ministry of Women's Affairs incorporated rights to same-sex relationships in its second National Action Plan to Prevent Violence Against Women 2014-2018. Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan expressed support for the LGBT community and said "Cambodian society does not discriminate against LGBT people. It is only individuals who do so. No Cambodian laws discriminate against them, and nothing is banning them from loving each other or getting married". The Cambodian Government also expressed a welcome reaction to the Nepal Constitution, saying there was a possibility for same-sex marriages to be passed as a law.
In May 2017, at a LGBT round table event, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) announced it would hold a referendum on the issue of same-sex marriage if elected. The Khmer National United Party (KNUP) said they would consider legalising same-sex marriage if they win the 2018 election. Other parties that announced their support of same-sex marriage include FUNCINPEC, the League for Democracy Party (LDP) and the Grassroots Democracy Party (GDP). However, with the absence of a credible opposition, the elections were viewed as a formality and dismissed as sham elections by the international community. They resulted in a widely expected landslide victory for the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP), which won all 125 seats in the National Assembly. The CPP said they have no plans to legalise same-sex marriage, but would consider it if a formal request is made. In February 2019, Prime Minister Hun Sen said that the country is "not yet ready" to legalise same-sex marriage.
Shortly after the Taiwanese Constitutional Court ruled that banning same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, 43 civil society groups and trade unions called on the Government to legalise same-sex marriage in Cambodia.
In 2019, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights released a report which showed that discrimination against same-sex partners had decreased, but they still lack major legal protections, mainly same-sex marriage and full adoption rights. The report states that "80% percent of 'rainbow families' believe that discrimination would be reduced if they were legally permitted to marry their partner. Excluding LGBT people from the institution of marriage excludes them from one of the foundations of Cambodian society." In response, government spokesman Phay Siphan said that so far, the Government has supported same-sex partners and has facilitated couples with joint ownership of property and some legal preferences. However, amending the law must be line with Khmer traditions and customs, he said.
Universal Periodic Review 2019
On 30 January 2019, during the country’s third Universal Periodic Review, held by the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC), Iceland, the Netherlands and Canada recommended Cambodia to legalize same-sex marriage. On 5 July 2019, the Cambodian Government accepted these recommendations.
A 2016 report estimated that there were around 1.4 million same-sex partners in Cambodia.
According to a 2018 report by CamAsean Youth's Future, a group that works to promote LGBT rights, there were about 6,000 same-sex couples in Cambodia.
In 2019, according to government figures, the country has more than 33,000 LGBT people, including about 5,000 couples who live together.
In 2015, TNS Cambodia conducted a survey focused on the opinions and attitudes towards LGBT people in Cambodia. The sample was 1,563 people, from 10 different provinces.[nb 1] 1,085 identified as straight and 478 identified as LGBT. 60% lived in rural areas, 24% in urban areas and 16% in semi-urban Phnom Penh.
Support for same-sex marriage was 38% among straight people, while 42% were opposed and 20% were neutral. Among LGBT people, 94% expressed support for same-sex marriage: from 96% among transgender women to 89% among gay men. 3% of LGBT people expressed opposition.
In total, 55% were in favour of same-sex marriage, 30% were opposed and 15% were neutral. The most frequent reasons for approval were "human rights" and "it is in their [LGBT people] nature", whereas opponents cited "against Khmer values and traditions" and "against human nature" as their most frequent reasons for disapproval.
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