Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

LGBTIQ+ Welcomes Universal Decriminalization of Homosexuality; Continues Push For Same-Sex Marriage Law

Members of Rainbow Community Kampuchea (RoCK) celebrate Pride Week in Kampot on May 16, 2024. (RoCK)
Members of Rainbow Community Kampuchea (RoCK) celebrate Pride Week in Kampot on May 16, 2024. (RoCK)

The Cambodian Human Rights Committee (CHRC) participated in a joint statement with France on the universal decriminalization of homosexuality, viewed as “good progress” by the LGBTIQ+ community, though it will continue pushing for the legalization of same-sex marriages.

The CHRC announced that the Cambodian government decided to join France in supporting the joint statement which would be issued on Thursday during the 56th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland.

The statement mentioned that the government always showed compassion and respect to the LGBTIQ+ community and reminded people not to discriminate against them, and that Cambodia does not have laws which punish homosexuality.

“Cambodia’s participation with France in this joint statement reflects the government’s strong commitment to respect, promote and protect human rights and LGBTIQ+ rights in the country and the world.” 

“At the same time, support for this joint statement shows that Cambodia is a society where everyone can live together in harmony and without discrimination under the shadow of peace and development,” CHRC said.

Its spokesperson Sreang Chenda told CamboJA News that although Cambodia does not recognize same sex marriages, it does not have a law penalizing homosexuality. Instead, it supports universal decriminalization of homosexuality. 

He noticed that the context of LGBTIQ+ in Cambodia has improved now. Many “feel brave to come out” because society openly recognizes them. However, legalization of same sex marriages would take time as they need to wait until the “entire society accepts”. 

“We cannot yet assume when [to create a same-sex marriage law], because in this regard, it is related to the mindset [of the society],” Chenda said. “But Cambodia does not have any laws that restrict or punish LGBTIQ+.” 

“When they [society] are open to accepting, we can make the laws, which are in line with the social context. To speed up the law, you have to join together,” he added. 

In July 2023, former prime minister Hun Sen remarked that Cambodia does not allow LGBTIQ+ individuals to marry but “they can still love and live with each other without guilt”. This week, Thailand’s Senate passed the marriage equality bill, becoming the first Southeast Asian country to legalize same-sex marriages.

Advocacy team leader of Rainbow Community Kampuchea (RoCK) Chey Sokdom said they are pleased to see Cambodia’s participation in the joint statement, saying that it was “very important” for the LGBTIQ+ community in Cambodia as it showed that the community was not isolated. 

“We recognize and appreciate the progress of the government’s commitment to respect, protect and not discriminate against the LGBTIQ+ community,” said Sokdom. 

However, the community and other stakeholders would continue to work together to establish the marriage equality law. 

“We will continue to work closely with stakeholders, step by step to enhance the protection of the LGBTIQ+ community by achieving recognition of legal equality for same-sex marriages,” she said. “It is a priority of the LGBTIQ+ community to protect loving families to ensure non-discrimination, equality and an inclusive society, which is in line with UN’s sustainable development goals of ‘leaving no one behind’,” she added. 

Soth Peosamnang, an LGBTIQ+ activist, expressed pleasure that the government decided to join the statement with France. Generally, society is open to LGBTIQ+ people, unfortunately there is still a lot of discrimination at the local level, which is something the government should pay attention to, they said.

“But [why] wait for society to be open first? We need to ask the government what it does every day [to create] an open society,” they said. “I agree that the legislation is for the benefit of the people. However, do not exclude minorities because the voice of LGBTIQ+ people is a minority and suffers from exclusion.” 

Peosamnang said the key player behind an open society is the government. The issue of discrimination cannot be laid on the community because many locals do not have any knowledge about LGBTIQ+. Therefore, it should start with the government and open-minded officials, who need to learn about the rights of LGBTIQ+ people.

“In order to respect the rights of LGBTIQ+, I strongly urge the government to start educating [people] by providing comprehensive community education services. Start with the government [officers] itself [to develop] open-minded officials [who will] learn about the rights of the LGBTIQ+ and accept us.”