LGBT rights in Cambodia

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LGBT rights in Cambodia Cambodia
Same-sex sexual activity legal? Legal
Discrimination protections No
Family rights
Recognition of
Adoption No

Same-sex sexual activity is legal in Cambodia. 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.

King Norodom Sihamoni supports the legalisation of same-sex marriage.[1] After the Taiwanese Constitutional Court ruled that banning same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, many called on the Government to legalise same-sex marriage in Cambodia.[2] The Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) said it would hold a referendum on the issue of same-sex marriage, if elected.[3]

Legality of same-sex sexual acitivity[edit]

Private, adult, non-commercial and consensual homosexuality is legal in Cambodia. The minimum age of consent for men and women is sixteen years old.[4] A few other aspects of the Criminal Code may impact the rights of LGBT people living in Cambodia: It is illegal in Cambodia to be a prostitute or live in the same residence as prostitutes. This becomes an issue when LGBT people live on the streets and don't have access to education. Article 298 of the Criminal Code prohibits soliciting for sex in public, even if the sexual activity will take place in private, with fines.

Recognition of same-sex relationships[edit]

Family law does not recognize same-sex marriage or civil partnerships in Cambodia. There, however, has been greater public awareness about same-sex couples since the 1990s.

In 2011, a constitutional ban defining marriage as only between a man and a woman was repealed.[5] Although, before this, same-sex marriage could still be officiated over in religious ceremonies.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 was 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.[6]

In February 2004, the issue of LGBT rights in Cambodia was discussed by then King, Norodom Sihanouk. King Sihanouk wrote on his website that he was impressed by marriage of same-sex partners in San Francisco,[7] and that if his people wished for same-sex 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".

In 2015, Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan expressed support for same-sex marriage in Cambodia, by saying that current law already protects LGBT from discrimination. The Cambodian Center for Human Rights disputed this statement and called for the Government to pass legislation in order to ensure LGBT equality.[8]

Discrimination protections[edit]

LGBT flag map of Cambodia

The Constitution does not expressly protect LGBT people from discrimination, but it does guarantee equal rights for all citizens, irrespective of sex or "other status". Similarly, while sex discrimination is prohibited in civil rights laws, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity is not expressly prohibited in such areas as employment, education, health care, housing, banking or public accommodations.[4] Government policy with regards to LGBT rights is gradually becoming more tolerant.

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.[9] However, in the same statement, Hun Sen stated that he did not want other parents to mistreat their gay children.

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.[10][11][12] In December 2010, the CCHR published a ground-breaking report on the situation of LGBT people in Cambodia.[13]


In 2015, the Ministry of Information sent out a letter imploring popular media outlets in Cambodia to stop mocking the LGBT community. The letter cites the Constitution that ridiculing the LGBT community deprives them of 'the honor and rights of LGBT people who are also protected by the state’s law as well as other citizens'.[14]

Living conditions[edit]

Traditional cultural mores[edit]

The Khmer language recognises male ("pros") 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 pros 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.[15]

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 sex. They call themselves kteuy, but may be insulted if outsiders use this term.[16]

"Real men" (pros pith brakat), men who identify, appear and behave as "pros", 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).[17]

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 a suitable person of the opposite sex, and raise a family.[18]

LGBT tourism[edit]

While not officially sponsored by the Government, there is also an active business for LGBT tourists visiting Cambodia.[19]

In February 2011, after some Cambodian tourism businesses had 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 the Ministry.[20]

Annual Pride celebration[edit]

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 has been an increasing acceptance of homosexuality among Cambodians. In 2006, about 400 Cambodians came to support and celebrate Pride.[21]

School curriculum[edit]

In June 2017, the Khmer Government announced new life skill courses about sex education. The courses will cover topics such as sexual health, gender-based violence, gender identity and combating discrimination against the LGBT population. According to those involved, they will be part of the curriculum in all of Cambodia’s schools starting in 2018.[22] LGBT activists along with the Ministry of Education have been active in training more than 3,000 teachers in 20 schools across nine Cambodian provinces in ways to include LGBT issues in their classes.

The Gay City[edit]

In 2010, it was reported that a significant number of poor and working class LGBT people had relocated to Beoung Kak 2. Public Radio International referred to this city as, "Cambodia’s first gay town."[23]

Popular culture[edit]

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; it was called Who Am I?. It was written and directed by Phoan Phuong Bopha and was shown on CTN, the country’s most-watched TV station, dozens of times.[24] In 2015, Cambodia got its first LGBT magazine, Q Cambodia.[25]

Summary table[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity legal Yes (No record of anti-gay laws in history)
Equal age of consent Yes (No record of anti-gay laws in history)
Anti-discrimination laws in employment only No
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services No
Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech) No
Same-sex marriages No (Proposed)
Recognition of same-sex couples No (Proposed)
Stepchild adoption by same-sex couples No (Proposed)
Joint adoption by same-sex couples No (Proposed)
LGBT people allowed to serve openly in the military Emblem-question.svg
Right to change legal gender Emblem-question.svg
Access to IVF for lesbians No
Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples No
MSM allowed to donate blood No

See also[edit]


External links[edit]