LGBT rights in Cambodia

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LGBT rights in Cambodia Cambodia
Same-sex sexual intercourse legal statusLegal
Discrimination protectionsNo
Family rights
Recognition of
"Declaration of Family Relationship"

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons in Cambodia face legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents. 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]

Phnom Penh and Siem Reap have a visible LGBT scene, with many bars, clubs and other venues catering to the LGBT community. Pride parades have been held in Cambodia since 2004, and have been gaining traction every year. However, while LGBT visitors tend to feel accepted, many LGBT Cambodians report societal discrimination, including forced opposite-sex marriages, discrimination at work and bullying at schools. Several human rights group, notably the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, CamASEAN and the Rainbow Community Kampuchea, work to reduce LGBT-related discrimination and raise awareness of LGBT people.[4] Through their work, they have persuaded the Government to introduce new LGBT-inclusive education classes in all Cambodian schools and to offer same-sex couples limited legal recognition.

Legality of same-sex sexual acitivity[edit]

Private, adult, non-commercial and consensual homosexuality is legal in Cambodia.[5] The age of consent is 15, regardless of gender and sexual orientation. A few 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 explicitly 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 modified.[6] It now says that marriage is between "one husband and one wife". Although, before 2011, 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.[7]

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,[8] 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 people 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.[9]

The Rainbow Community Kampuchea (RoCK), with the help of local authorities, has created a formal relationship registry program, called the "Declaration of Family Relationship" (Khmer: សេចក្តីថ្លែងទំនាក់ទំនងគ្រួសារ; French: déclaration de vie commune). According to RoCK, "the Declaration of Family Relationship is a civil contract between two people who are willing to be together and share responsibility taking care of the family, children and distribute the joint asset, as legal spouses do". By May 2018, the civil contract had been introduced to 50 communes in 15 provinces, and 21 couples had signed the forms.[10][11]

Adoption and parenting[edit]

By law, only married couples may adopt in Cambodia. However, local authorities tend to be quite lax, and many same-sex couples have been able to adopt children.[12]

LGBT individuals are allowed to adopt.[12]

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.[5] Government policy with regards to LGBT rights is gradually becoming more tolerant.

In 2007, Prime Minister of Cambodia Hun Sen publicly stated that he was disowning and disinheriting his adopted daughter because she is a lesbian and had married another woman.[13] 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.[14][15][16] In December 2010, the CCHR published a ground-breaking report on the situation of LGBT people in Cambodia.[17]


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".[18]

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.[19]

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 feel insulted if outsiders use this term.[20]

"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.

Kteuys face significant problems of social acceptance (including issues relating to marriage and children) and violence. The general social environment towards kteuys 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).[21]

The cultural tolerance of LGBT people has yet to advance LGBT rights legislation. While the cultural mores and Buddhism tend to produce a degree of tolerance for LGBT people, harassment and discrimination still occur and there is also intense social pressure to marry a suitable person of the opposite sex, and raise a family.[22]

LGBT tourism[edit]

While not officially sponsored by the Government, there is also an active business for LGBT tourists visiting Cambodia.[23]

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.[24]

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.[25]

School curriculum[edit]

In June 2017, the Khmer Government announced new life skill courses about sex education. The courses cover topics such as sexual health, gender-based violence, gender identity and combating discrimination against the LGBT population. They became part of the curriculum in all of Cambodia's schools in 2018.[26] Previously, LGBT activists along with the Ministry of Education were 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."[27]

Popular culture[edit]

Tolerance for LGBT people is seen within traditional cultural mores along with the modern popular cultural mores. 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.[28] In 2015, Cambodia got its first LGBT magazine, Q Cambodia.[29]

Public opinion[edit]

In 2015, TNS Cambodia conducted a survey focused on the opinions and attitudes towards LGBT people in Cambodia. According to the survey, 55% of Cambodians were in favour of same-sex marriage, while 30% were opposed and 15% were neutral. Additionally, a majority of Cambodians reported personally knowing an openly LGBT person.[30] However, most LGBT Cambodians said they had been victim of discrimination when coming out to their families and friends.

Human rights reports[edit]

2017 United States Department of State report[edit]

In 2017, the United States Department of State reported the following, concerning the status of LGBT rights in Cambodia:

  • "The most significant human rights issues included: extrajudicial killings; at least one disappearance by local security forces; continued prisoner abuse in government facilities; arbitrary arrests by the government, including the warrantless arrest of the CNRP leader Kem Sokha; increased restrictions on freedoms of speech, assembly, and association including on press freedom and online expression; the use of violence and imprisonment--both actual and threatened--to intimidate the political opposition and civil society as well as to suppress dissenting voices; corruption; violence against women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons; child abuse; and forced labor."[31]
  • Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
    "No laws criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct, nor was there official discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons, although some societal discrimination and stereotyping persisted, particularly in rural areas.
    In general LGBTI persons had limited job opportunities due to discrimination and exclusion. LGBTI persons were frequently harassed and bullied because of their appearance and their work in the entertainment and commercial sex sectors. There were no reports of government discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, citizenship, access to education, or health care. The general population, however, typically treated persons involved in consensual same-sex relationships with fear and suspicion.
    A local LGBTI rights organization reported more than 100 incidents of violence or abuse against LGBTI persons, including domestic violence by family members. Stigma or intimidation may have inhibited further reporting of incidents."[31]

Summary table[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity legal Yes (No record of anti-gay laws in history)
Equal age of consent (15) 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/Yes (One same-sex marriage has been legally recognised)
Recognition of same-sex couples No/Yes (Declaration of Family Relationship)
Stepchild adoption by same-sex couples No/Yes (De jure banned; though there are known cases of same-sex adoptions)
Joint adoption by same-sex couples No/Yes (De jure banned; though there are known cases of same-sex adoptions)
LGBT people allowed to serve openly in the military Unknown
Right to change legal gender Unknown
Access to IVF for lesbians No
Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples No
MSM allowed to donate blood No

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Cambodia's Gays: Out of the Shadows?
  2. ^ Call to legalise gay marriage
  3. ^ Parties open to gay marriage
  4. ^ What's It Like to Be LGBT in Cambodia?
  5. ^ a b Criminal Code of the Kingdom of Cambodia
  6. ^ "MSM, HIV and Marital Law". Archived from the original on 17 August 2011.
  7. ^ "Gay411".
  8. ^ Global Gayz. Gay Cambodia News & Reports 2005 Archived 8 March 2009 at the Wayback Machine.. Retrieved 15 January 2006.
  9. ^ Cambodia Welcomes Same-Sex Marriage, Gov’t Spokesman Says
  10. ^ Same-sex couples tie the knot in Cambodia in a stunning public ceremony, Gay Star News, 24 May 2018
  11. ^ Rainbow Community Kampuchea: What we do?
  12. ^ a b Despite legal hurdles, Cambodia’s LGBT couples are adopting – and changing minds
  13. ^ Cambodia PM severs ties to gay daughter
  14. ^ SOGI Project, website of CCHR
  15. ^ "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.
  16. ^ "Human Rights for Everyone", press statement, CCHR et al., 16 May 2010.
  17. ^ 'Coming Out in the Kingdom', CCHR, 9 December 2010
  18. ^ Ministry: Stop Mocking LGBT Community
  19. ^ Babara Earth, Diverse Genders and Sexualities in Cambodia, p.61
  20. ^ Babara Earth, Diverse Genders and Sexualities in Cambodia, p.63-65
  21. ^ Babara Earth, Diverse Genders and Sexualities in Cambodia, p.65
  22. ^ In Cambodia, Some Families Still Try To ‘Cure’ LGBT Sons And Daughters
  23. ^ Tips for Gay and Lesbian Travelers
  24. ^ Opening up to gay tourists
  25. ^ "Cambodian Homosexuals Parade for Gay Pride". Archived from the original on 5 May 2008.
  26. ^ Lessons in LGBT: Cambodia Brings Gay Rights Into the Classroom
  27. ^ Cambodia's first gay town
  28. ^ Who Am I? brings same-sex issues out into the open CAAi News media
  29. ^ Cambodia Gets Its First LGBT Magazine |
  30. ^ TNS Research Report on Opinions Attitudes and Behavior toward the LGBT Population in Cambodia
  31. ^ a b CAMBODIA 2017 HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.

External links[edit]