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Cambodia Should Consider Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage

Written by: Tol Chhourkimheng, a graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Education from The Royal University of Phnom Penh

Edited by: Heng Kimkong, a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at Cambodia Development Center and a PhD Candidate in Education at The University of Queensland, Australia

Photo Credit: "IMGP3478" by mattbuck4950 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0


“We can get married by following the Cambodian tradition and culture, but we don’t have legal recognition.” This is a statement I heard from LGBTIQ people. The term LGBTIQ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, and Queer.

The government, non-governmental organizations, and youth groups have put in numerous efforts to advocate for LGBTIQ rights and to stop discrimination against LGBTIQ people. At the meeting with LGBTIQ people, Keo Remy, head of the Cambodian Human Rights Committee, declared that “the government had called for an end to discrimination against the LGBTIQ community and supported all forms of freedom of expression.” This is the positive movement towards LGBTIQ people from the government.

Thus far, 29 countries have legalized same-sex marriage, and among those, Taiwan is the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage. In Cambodia, same-sex marriage is not legalized yet. Article 45 in the Cambodian constitution stated that “[….] Marriage shall be conducted according to conditions determined by law based on the principle of mutual consent between one husband and one wife.” Similarly, Article 6 of the law on marriage and family published in 1989 stated that “A marriage shall be prohibited as to: a person whose sex is the same sex as the other; […]” These articles prohibited same-sex marriage. 

Meanwhile, while the 2007 Civil Code and the 2011 Law on the Implementation of the Civil Code revoked the prohibition of same-sex marriage, they did not mention the legalization of same-sex marriage. The absence of the legal recognition of same-sex marriage has caused numerous problems to LGBTIQ people. The government should therefore do something to ensure that everyone is equal, secured, protected by the law, and no one is left behind. Legal same-sex marriage is a pathway to minimize and get rid of the discrimination and prejudice against LGBTIQ people.   

Why Legalization of Same-Sex Marriage Matters

According to a video interview with one LGBTIQ person, there are two essential factors that played a crucial role in legalizing same-sex marriage. First, legal recognition grants LGBTIQ people full rights as citizens so they can live without worry, fear, and concern about discrimination and hatred from other people. Second, their family will be recognized by the authority, allowing them to have equal accessibility to the public service. 

In a report conducted by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) with 121 current or former members of rainbow couples (i.e., same-sex couples), 96 respondents answered “Yes, a lot” to the question “Is marriage important to you?” 32 respondents agreed that marriage is a core value to fit with the cultural tradition. 11 respondents viewed marriage as a way to gain recognition from relatives or the public. Nine respondents determined that marriage helps to validate a long and loving relationship. Four respondents reported that marriage brings happiness and strength to their relationship, whilst 24 respondents claimed that marriage could improve equality or human rights. Moreover, three respondents stated that marriage can help to gain recognition from the authorities or the law. In the same report, 94 respondents feel that legalizing same-sex marriage would help to reduce discrimination against LGBTIQ people. Among those 94 respondents, many of them recognized the necessity and power of the law. Therefore, LGBTIQ people view marriage as a fundamental value to fit with the culture, obtain more recognition, validate long-term relationships, bring happiness, and protect their rights. Legalizing same-sex marriage will therefore help to reduce and eliminate the discrimination against LGBTIQ people. The government should take all these possible consequences into consideration and consider legalizing same-sex marriage.  

Without the law, how do same-sex couples jointly own property? How do they divide the property when getting a divorce? Without legal recognition, same-sex couples cannot access the legal facilitation on the settlement of their property, expense, and income. For instance, Article 971 of the Civil Code stated that “husband and wife shall share the expenses of married life, taking into account their property, income and all other circumstances.”

Furthermore, Article 972 stated that “the types of property listed below shall be treated as separate property belonging to one of the spouses alone: a) property held by a spouse from before the marriage; b) property acquired by a spouse during the marriage by gift, succession, or testamentary gift; c) property obtained as the consideration for disposing of property described in items (a) or (b) above.” These two articles are proof that only husband and wife who are heterosexual can access this legal facilitation on the division of their property and protection by the law.  

People might ask: If same-sex couples also want to have children, how can they make it happen? Presently, we are living in the era of modern technology. Same-sex couples can have children by adoption, using In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) and other methods. There is evidence that, a same-sex couple in Cambodia has successfully used IVF, and their child is growing up. However, there is no legal recognition of the children of same-sex couples.

It is important to note that there are two kinds of child adoption: full adoption and simple adoption. Article 1008 of the Civil Code declared that “(1) In order to become an adopter, a person must have a spouse. […]” Since there is no legal recognition for same-sex marriage, the adoption of children by same-sex couples cannot be protected by the law.

On May 23, 2021, I conducted an interview with SOTH Peosamnang, an LGBTIQ activist Samnang said:

Personally, I think Cambodia should definitely consider legalizing same-sex marriage because it will create an equal opportunity for everyone, especially for LGBTIQ+ rights. One more thing, it is one of the top priority advocacy plans for LGBTIQ+ rights. Legalizing same-sex marriage will lead Cambodia to become more brilliant in terms of respecting diverse gender identities, and also it is one of the points that the Cambodian government has approved with the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) committee. Moreover, it is very important for the LGBTIQ+ community in Cambodia to access the legal supporting documents regarding their needs to make a family book, adopt children, and do other crucial things which need legal documents such as a marriage certificate.

I Strongly Advocate for the Legalization of Same-Sex Marriage

Personally, I stand with and strongly advocate for the legalization of same-sex marriage for three significant reasons. First, everyone is born equal under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. People are equal; thus, the discrimination against gender identity and sexual orientation has to be eradicated. Every citizen is willing to follow the culture and tradition of the country with no discrimination and prejudice. While straight people have opportunities to get married, LGBTIQ people should do too.

Second, culture plays a key part in people’s lives. However, the presence of law is more essential to assure all citizens can live in peace, harmony, fairness, and equality. If the law serves only specific groups of people, division in the society will occur. Some parts of the culture also give weight to the law. Nevertheless, the law can be amended and updated from generation to generation because the world is moving forward, and the movement has to get better, not worse, for everyone. Imagine that a child of an opposite-sex couple has the legal family book and is fully protected by the law while the child of the same-sex couple doesn’t have this fortune. How can the state ensure the safety, security, and rights of children of same-sex couples? Thus, by having legal recognition, LGBTIQ people can claim fair benefits at work as other people can. For example, some work missions outsides the country allow opposite-sex couples to bring their family along by virtue of the bonding and well-being of the family, but how about same-sex families? If they want to bring along their family, how will they do with no legal recognition? Additionally, some workplaces give employment benefits including insurance and other benefits to spouses and children of heterosexual staff by using the family books and marriage certificates. In contrast, same-sex couples cannot access these legal documents, making them unable to access the various benefits offered by their employers. 

Third, as Cambodia is a democratic country, all Cambodian citizens should be able to access public services, live equally, raise their voices and concerns, take part in social decisions, and have freedom. No one is superior to another because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. All citizens should be protected by the government and the law with no exception. Thus, legalizing same-sex marriage will guarantee that LGBTIQ people can live as full citizens protected by the law. They are human resources who participate and engage in social decision-making. The legalization of same-sex marriage responds to the characteristics of a democratic country that put its citizen above all else.  


The government, non-governmental organizations, and youth groups have been committed to combating the discrimination against LGBTIQ people. However, the lack of legal recognition of self-identity and same-sex marriage is still a major issue that needs to be addressed by the Cambodian government. While many heterosexual couples enjoy their wedding legally and are protected by the law, same-sex couples do not have that chance yet. This is the case of “same same but different,” meaning that LGBTIQ people live with us in the same society and country, but they are treated differently. It is time that the Cambodian government seriously consider the legalization of same-sex marriage and makes a new history for the LGBTIQ community in Cambodia.