Gay Cambodians Say They Are Ready to Marry

Leang Sothea, also known as “Popy,” fell in love more than a year ago with a man who pro­mised to marry him.

But the 21-year-old gay transvestite said they were afraid to wed for fear others would speak ill of them.

Since King Norodom Sihanouk proclaimed his support for gay and lesbian marriages last week, however, Popy said his dream to wed may soon be a reality.

“I will consider getting married,” he said. “After the King has allowed people of the same sex to marry, I am not embarrassed to get married.”

As an actor and winner of the 2001 Khmer Women Beauty Contest, which featured men in drag, Popy is well known for his film and television roles as a gay man in movies such as CTN’s “Without Heart” and “The Flower Grows on Rock.”

Still, he has tried to keep his relationship with his boyfriend out of the public eye. Otherwise, he said, people would laugh at him.

With new-found confidence spurred by the King’s remarks, Popy said he hopes attitudes toward him will change.

“From now on, I will have equal rights. Although I am a third sex, I don’t have to keep my secret as being gay and I don’t have to betray my nature,” he said.

In a message on his Web site on Friday, King Sihanouk gave his approval of same sex marriages. He also defended “Khteuys,” or transvestites, saying they “must be accepted and well treated in our national community.”

His comments generated mixed response.

Norak Sreylak, a 24-year-old gay makeup artist for TV5, applauded the King’s statement.

“I am very happy to hear the information right now that the society accepts me,” he said, adding that he is now on the look-out for a potential marriage partner.

“Since I heard the information, I am trying to find a man,” Norak Sreylak said.

Chea Vannath, director of the Center for Social Development, also praised the proposal of same sex marriages.

“A lot of people make fun or look down on gay people,” she said. “The King’s idea is appropriate. This principal respects the human rights” of people of all sexual orientations.

Hang Soth, the director general of techniques for the Ministry of Culture’s general cultural department, disagreed, saying Cambodia should not follow the lead of “European countries and Thailand” and allow same sex marriages.

“To marry Khteuy with Khteuy will cause bad influences to the Cambodian culture,” Hang Soth said. “In Cambodian history, never have Khteuys married with Khteuys—only males marry with females.”

He added that Cambodia would face a “shortage of tough human resources” if Cambodia encourages its Khteuy community.

“Khteuys will cause the tough man to become a weakened man. Then when the man becomes a weakened man, we won’t have human resources to develop the country,” he said.

Though Cambodia’s Law of the Marriage and Family prohibits same-sex marriage, a Cambodian woman married another Cambodian woman in 1995 and two Cambodian men married in 1996—their wedding made the front page of Khmer language newspaper Koh Santepheap (Island of Peace).

Popy said he hopes that a law may now be adopted to allow homosexual couples to marry.

He added that if sex change operations were available here, he would gladly accept.

“I just want to be a normal woman,” he said.

And his mother, Touch Kun, 52, said she won’t mind if her son marries another man.

“He can marry any sex, male or female, as long as he is in love,” she said.

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