Coinciding with Cambodia’s 13th annual Gay Pride Week celebrations, which begin today, a statement signed by 57 communities, organizations and businesses called on the government to legalize same-sex marriage and introduce laws to protect the LGBT community.
Released on Thursday, the joint statement said that LGBT Cambodians “face high levels of rejection from family members” and have been ignored by the legal system.
It said a lack of anti-discrimination laws leaves lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people “susceptible to discrimination in employment, education, and other areas,” while the Constitution’s definition of marriage as a union between a man and woman means many couples are “vulnerable to financial and property insecurity as well as the threat of forced heterosexual marriage by their parents.”
According to research conducted by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) last year, “over 53% of transgender women surveyed had been the subject of an attempted forced marriage by their parents,” said CCHR director Chak Sopheap in an email on Thursday.
“Further anecdotal evidence tells us that this phenomenon is comparably common among other” LGBT groups, she said.
Many of those who enter forced marriages are victims of marital rape and domestic violence, she added.
Ms. Sopheap said legalizing same-sex marriage would help reduce homophobia, “partly because of the huge importance given to the institution of marriage in Cambodian culture, and partly because of the increased visibility and prominence it would give to” LGBT issues.
Em Chanmakara, spokesman for the Social Affairs Ministry, said the government had no plans to change or create laws to accommodate the LGBT community.
The marriage law, he said, was particularly sensitive. “I think that it affects our Khmer traditional beliefs,” he said.
“In Cambodia, many, many people are against LGBT,” he added. “If we change the law, I don’t think many people [will] support this kind of idea.”
Heng CheyLeaphy, spokeswoman for LGBT rights group Rainbow Community Kampuchea (RoCK), acknowledged on Thursday that attitudes toward the LGBT community needed to change.
“Changing the law will reduce some discrimination,” she said, “but changing minds will make a bigger impact.”
Gay Pride events run until May 22.