HANOI — Vietnam’s Communist government is considering whether to allow same-sex couples to marry or legally register and receive rights, positioning the country to be the first in Asia to do so.
Even longtime gay-rights activists are stunned by the Justice Ministry’s proposal to include same-sex couples in its overhaul of the country’s marriage law. No one knows what form it will take or whether it will survive long enough to be debated before the National Assembly next year, but supporters say the fact that it is being considered is a victory in a region where being gay can result in jail sentences or whippings with a rattan cane.
‘‘I think everyone is surprised,’’ said Vien Tanjung, an Indonesian gay-rights activist. ‘‘Even if it’s not successful it’s already making history. For me, personally, I think it’s going to go through.’’
Vietnam seems an unlikely champion of gay-rights issues. It is routinely lambasted by the international community over its dismal human rights record, often locking up political dissidents who call for democracy or religious freedom. Up until just a few years ago, homosexuality was labeled as a ‘‘social evil’’ alongside drug addiction and prostitution.