Vietnam’s Communist government is now considering allowing same-sex marriage, to the surprise of many in the country, Asahi Shimbun reports.

Vietnam would become the first country in Asia to do so. Vietnam’s gay community remains ‘underground’ due to the strict society. Gay issues had not previously been given widespread media exposure in the country until state-run media decided to cover the issue recently. Increased public awareness led policymakers to consider gay rights, including the Justice Ministry’s proposal to include same-sex couples, in amendments to the country’s marriage law.

Some are not sure if the policy will survive the debate before the National Assembly next year and it requires the approval of a majority of parliament.

The gay community was surprised the amendment was being considered. Vien Tanjung, an Indonesian gay-rights activist told the Asahi, “I think everyone is surprised. Even if it’s not successful it’s already making history”. The step is seen as a ‘victory’ in a country “where simply being gay can result in jail sentences or whippings with a rattan cane.”