Same-sex sexual activity is legal in Cambodia when it involves non-commercial acts between consenting adults in private. While traditional cultural mores tend to be tolerant in this area, even expressly providing support for people of an intermediate or third gender, LGBT rights legislation has not yet been enacted by the ruling government.
Homosexuality is legal when it involves private, non-commercial and consensual activities between adults.Template:Fact The legal age of consent for sexual practices is in some dispute.Template:Fact A law prohibiting "debauchery" appears to establish a universal age of consent at fifteen.Template:Fact
Traditional cultural mores
The Khmer language recognises male ("bros") and female ("srey") as the dominant genders, but also includes term kteuy (equivalent to the Thai "kathoey") for a third gender intermediate between the other two: it describes a person who has the external physical characteristics of either bros or srey but behaves in a manner appropriate to the other. As in Thailand, the term kathoey now refers almost exclusively to the physiologically masculine pair of this term – i.e., physical males who have a female identity, most often expressed in cross-dressing.
The broad category of kteuy covers two distinct sub-groupings, "short hairs" and "long hairs". Short hairs (sak klay) are men who dress and identify as men but have sex with "real" men; they are usually married, and very few of them have sex exclusively with men. Long hairs (sak veng, also called srey sros, "charming girls"), identify and behave as women, and may use hormones and surgery to change their physical gender. They call themselves kteuy, but may be insulted if outsiders use this term.
"Real men" (bros pith brakat), men who identify, appear and behave as "bros", are the object of desire for both long and short hairs. All "real men" are, or will be, married; some have sex only with women, but others have a range of sexual partners.
Kteuy face significant problems of social acceptance (including issues relating to marriage and children) and violence. The general social environment towards kteuy is tolerant, but those who transgress gender behaviour are nevertheless treated with contempt and subject to discrimination ("real men" with important jobs who engage in same-sex relations hide their lifestyles). Some "real men" are violently prejudiced against non-real men, and may attack or rape them. (Former King Sihanouk once commented that "real men", not minorities, are the source of violence in society).
The cultural tolerance of LGBT people has yet to advance LGBT-rights legislation. While the cultural mores and Buddhism tends to produce a degree of tolerance for LGBT people, harassment and discrimination still occurs and there is also intense social pressure to marry and raise a family .
Discrimination and harassment protections
Discrimination in such areas as employment, education, housing, health care, banking and other businesses that offer services to the public on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity is not expressly illegal.Template:Fact Likewise there is no law that expressly deals with harassment or violence against LGBT people.Template:Fact No politician or organized political party has publicly supported for legislation to address discrimination and harassment against LGBT people.Template:Fact
In 2007, the Prime Minister of Cambodia publicly stated that he was disowning and disinheriting his adopted daughter because she is a lesbian and had married another woman. However, in the same statement, Hun Sen stated that he did not want other parents to mistreat their gay children.
Despite the decision of the Prime Minister, and the lack of civil rights protections, the 1990s saw a desire of more LGBT Cambodians to come out of the closet, and stand up for their human rights and dignity.Template:Fact The Government generally allows gay bars to exist, along with annual pride festivals and some degree of political activism on behalf of LGBT-rights.Template:Fact
Several organizations have arisen to sponsor social activities for LGBT people as well as campaign for human rights and dignity, e.g., Cambodia LGBT Pride!, M Style and many more.Template:Fact While not officially sponsored by the government, there is also an active business for LGBT tourists visiting Cambodia.
In 2010, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) established the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Project to empower LGBT people throughout Cambodia to advocate for their rights and to improve respect for LGBT people throughout Cambodia. In December 2010, the CCHR published a ground breaking report on the situation of LGBT people in Cambodia.
In February 2011, after some Cambodian tourism businesses have set up a global campaign called Adore Cambodia! to let LGBT tourists know they are welcome in the country, the Ministry of Tourism welcomed this initiative. "We have no policy to discriminate on sex, national and religious grounds. We really support them," said So Sokvuthy from this Ministry.
Marriage and partnership recognition
In February 2004, the issue of gay rights in Cambodia was discussed by then King-Father Norodom Sihanouk. King Sihanouk wrote on his web site he was impressed by marriage of same-sex partners in San Francisco, and that if his people wished for gay marriage to be legalized in Cambodia, he would do so. King Sihanouk also stated that he believed that God views homosexuals, as well as transvestites, as equal because "[God loves] wide range of tastes".
The king's position conflicts with the acting Prime Minister who publicly disowned and disinherited his adoptive daughter because she was a lesbian and had married another woman .
The Constitution defines marriage to only be between a man and a woman, same-sex marriage can still be officiated over in religious ceremonies. In one case of partnership recognition Khav Sokha and Pum Eth were married on 12 March 1995, in the village of Kro Bao Ach Kok, in Kandal Province, where they are from. Sokha said in an interview to the Phnom Penh Post, "The authorities thought it was strange, but they agreed to tolerate it because I have three children already (from a previous marriage). They said that if we were both single (and childless), we would not be allowed to get married because we could not produce children". Thus, it is a fully acknowledged marriage, with official approval, and there was not really any reaction to it. It was a popular event, with 250 people coming to the ceremony and partying, including Buddhist monks and high officials from the Province.(Juan Pablo Ordóñez – May 1996)
Annual LGBT Pride Celebration
Cambodia's first ever LGBT Pride celebration was held in 2003 in the capital city of Phnom Penh. It is now a yearly event that openly celebrates the diversity of Cambodia. Once a taboo subject, there is an increasing acceptance for homosexuality among Cambodians. In 2006, about 400 Cambodians in the Gay and Lesbian communities came to support and celebrate Gay Pride.
Tolerance for LGBT people is seen within traditional cultural mores along with the modern popular cultural. The first ever Cambodian-made film depicting a homosexual relationship debuted in early 2009, going on to become a blockbuster in the country.
- Same-sex marriage in Cambodia
- Human rights in Cambodia
- LGBT rights in Asia
- Cambodian Center for Human Rights
- Ou Virak
- Alliance for Freedom of Expression in Cambodia
- Cambodia Human Rights Portal (Sithi)
- Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR)
- King Norodom Sihanouk's website
- Gay Cambodia Guide
- Babara Earth, Transgender Identities in Phnom Penh
- Babara Earth, Diverse Genders and Sexualities in Cambodia, p.61
- Babara Earth, Diverse Genders and Sexualities in Cambodia, p.63-65
- Babara Earth, Diverse Genders and Sexualities in Cambodia, p.65
- SOGI Project, website of CCHR
- "Not easy to be out in the Kingdom", Phnom Penh Post, 10 May 2010. "There's not very much information out there at all ... I don't think anyone really knows what the general everyday situation is for the gay community in Cambodia, and I think that's because they've been afraid to speak out" - Rupert Abbott.
- "Human Rights for Everyone", press statement, CCHR et al., 16 May 2010.
- 'Coming Out in the Kingdom', CCHR, 9 December 2010
- Global Gayz. Gay Cambodia News & Reports 2005. Retrieved 15 January 2006.
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