Vietnam’s Communist government is considering whether to legalise marriage or civil registration for gay couples.

The Justice Ministry is debating whether to include rights for gay couples in an overhaul of marriage laws. It has been suggested that these rights will focus on inheritance, property and adoption of children.

Speaking last week, Justice Minister Ha Hung Cuong said: “I think, as far as human rights are concerned, it’s time for us to look at the reality. The number of homosexuals has mounted to hundreds of thousands. It’s not a small figure. They live together without registering marriage. They may own property. We, of course, have to handle these issues legally.”

Although it is not yet clear what form provisions could take or whether proposals will reach the National Assembly, gay rights campaigners say they are surprised by the news.

Associated Press, which reported that legal recognition of gay couples was being discussed, said that attitudes to homosexuality have begun to change in the last five years, with state-run media taking an interest in the lives of the gay community.