Discussions Center on Equalizing Cambodia’s LGBT Rights

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) activists and legal experts began a two-day conference Tuesday in Phnom Penh to discuss ways to ensure that Cambodia’s LGBT community enjoys equal rights and protections under the law.

Cambodia does not have an anti-discrimination law pertaining to the LGBT community, said April O’Neill, a representative from USAID who said the event was focused on “legal protections for the LGBT community, and linking that community with Cambodia’s progressive lawyers to ensure equal protection under the law.”

The late King Father Norodom Sihanouk voiced his support for same-sex marriage on a number of occasions, once saying that “gays and lesbians would not exist if God did not create them,” and that liberal democracies should allow same-sex marriage.

Gary Atkins, an international expert on LGBT law in Southeast Asia from Seattle University in the U.S., said there is a need for specific laws dealing with same-sex couples.

“LGBT children are being born every day in Cambodia,” he said. “So it is up to you to make sure that the law protects them.”

Mark West, who works with the East-West Management Institute’s program on rights and justice, which organized the workshop, said the 2011 Civil Code marked a “clear evolution” in the law compared to the country’s 1989 Marriage and Family Law, which prohibited same-sex marriage.

“The Civil Code supersedes the Family and Marriage Law and…frequently uses the word ‘spouse’ to describe couples and also clearly states that homosexual marriage and heterosexual marriage are types of marriage…I think that’s fascinating,” Mr. West added.

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