Sometimes the most significant transformations in history happen quietly, beautifully, perfectly. They occur as a convergence of forces that may have been in motion for some time – and they represent the single point of transition when the struggles of those who have gone before culminate in generation-defining change.
On January 24, 2015, well-known local fashion designer Mr. Adrian Anh Tuan married Mr. Son Doan, a Vietnamese- American, in a private ceremony at the Amiana Resort in Nha Trang. As with every same-sex wedding ceremony in Vietnam, the marriage was not registered, and no law was broken. But this time, no officer of the law arrived to take anybody away in the name of public decency; nobody was fined or sent off for re-education. The ceremony occurred openly, proudly, and joyously. Most significant, however, was the fact that in the weeks that followed, thousands of messages were sent to the happy couple in overwhelming support of their union – and not one single message of hate. There was no condemnation in the media, not one statement of disgust or protest, no claim that Vietnamese traditions were under threat. For the first time in modern history, Vietnamese society itself faced a love between two men for what it was – and smiled in acceptance, offering their congratulations.
For Adrian, the intense outpouring of love and admiration from the public has come as a complete surprise. “Just last year, the police would have come to stop a wedding like ours,” he says. “Somehow, there has been no negative impact. We did our wedding out of love; we didn’t think we were going to inspire people or make it to the news or anything. That all happened out of nowhere. But I think we’re really lucky it happened that way. I’ve received messages every day from young people who say ‘I want to come out,’ or who want to ask about our love story. Every day since the wedding. My Facebook followers have doubled over the past week. I think it’s had a pretty good impact – and really inspired people.”
Acceptance in Society
The couple’s wedding ceremony followed a long-awaited change in marriage law, which came into effect on January 1, 2015. Although the timing is a lucky coincidence (they had originally planned for their ceremony to take place last August, and say they would have held it regardless of any changes in the law) the release of the 2014 Act contained an important rephrasing in which same-sex marriage is no longer a ‘forbidden’ union but has instead been labeled as ‘not legally recognized.’ Although homosexual weddings (as opposed to marriages) have never been explicitly outlawed in Vietnam, law enforcement agencies have frequently cited the previous legislation to justify punishments levied against same-sex couples who have dared to hold public ceremonies in the recent past.
Since the new law came into effect, there has been some confusion about its stance: some international news outlets proclaimed that gay marriage was legalized here, while others expressed their disappointment that Vietnam had missed its opportunity to become the first Asian country to do so. What makes Adrian and Son’s wedding so important, however, is that the reaction from the public shows this issue is no longer as stigmatized in Vietnamese society as it once was – and therein lies the most significant change. It’s this, more than anything else, that LGBT activist groups have been fighting for – the right to be accepted not just in law, but in society at large.
“I haven’t heard of any other recent same-sex weddings,” says Adrian. “I’m sure there have been some, but they probably weren’t done openly like ours. Maybe after this, things will change. Definitely if there are more events like this, and they’re well- received by the public, then I’m sure that it will affect the lawmakers and they will do something about it.”
As with any marriage, the couple has discovered that the experience of going through the ceremony has deepened their relationship in unexpected ways. “We’ve been together and we’ve lived together for almost three years,” says Adrian. “It’s not like it’s a big change in terms of our living situation. It’s more about what’s in your head. We feel more attached, actually. I didn’t expect that. I thought that what we had was the best we could have already. But with the wedding, we feel closer. The point of the whole thing was for us to have a memory to keep, to have more responsibility to one another, and to really be recognized as a couple in our families’ eyes.”
The wedding itself was almost dreamlike. “It was quite Westernized, but modified for our purposes,” he continues. “A ceremony on the beach. Rings and vows. Our parents gave speeches and everybody was very emotional. I think they could see the love that came from us. They were really happy for us.”
“I’m not a crier, and I didn’t think I was going to cry at my wedding. But I don’t know what happened – I just couldn’t stop. Everyone there was crying.”
Adrian and Son hope their example will set a positive precedent for other same-sex couples who wish to follow suit.
“It should be this way for a very long time now,” says Adrian. “We’re not in the 80s or early 70s when homosexuality was something blooming and new here. Vietnam even 10 years ago was still very conservative. But the more we grow, the more open we are. I didn’t know that all this would happen, but I’m very honored to be a part of it. It could be the start of something a lot better for the gay community.”
* Images provided by Adrian Anh Tuan