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Vietnam will also hold its first public gay pride parade Aug. 5 in Hanoi. The country is socially conservative, but the government restricts the kind of politicized religious movements that typically push back against same-sex marriage in other countries. Gay pride events also seem to pose little threat to Communist Party’s dominance.

The same-sex marriage proposal still has several hurdles before it could become law. The Justice Ministry will consider opinions from the public along with government agencies before submitting its draft proposal to the National Assembly next May on whether to recommend same-sex marriage or some other type of legal recognition with rights. Then, it must be approved by a majority of parliament.

“Some people told me if Vietnam could legalize it, it would be very good example for other counties to follow,” said Le Quang Binh, head of the nonprofit Institute for Studies of Society, Economy and Environment, which is consulting on the marriage law. “People think that talking about it is a big step forward already. … I hope it will lead to more openness or tolerance for gays and lesbians in Vietnam.”

As for Vietnamese partners Loan and Nguyen Thi Chi, who share a one-room apartment down a narrow alley in Hanoi, they say their love and commitment is real, regardless of whether a law exists to recognize them when they marry next month. But they hope the new proposal will ease stigma that lingers around same-sex couples.

Chi, 20, knows the pain of discrimination all too well. She recently dropped out of college after being publicly outed by a note taped to one of her classroom doors saying she was “diseased.” She was harassed and bullied for a year and a half on campus until finally deciding she’d had enough.

“Things must change,” she said. “Even though it was not a nice experience, more and more people are interested in knowing about the community. And the more people that know about it, the more people will have a different view on it.”

Associated Press writer Sean Yoong contributed to this report from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.