Thailand could soon the be first Southeast Asian country to legalize same-sex partnerships

Bangkok also welcomed the nation’s first Pride parade in 16 years earlier this month

Thailand is poised to become the first Southeast Asian country to legalize same-sex partnerships after a long-delayed bill was approved by its cabinet.

Although it does not go as far as recognizing full marriage equality, the Civil Partnerships Bill unveiled by Thailand’s Council of Ministers on June 7 allows same-sex couples many of the same rights as heterosexual partners, according to the Bangkok Post. Under the proposed law, same-sex couples will be able to adopt, share rights of inheritance and make medical decisions on their partner’s behalf. The draft legislation also provides a pathway for legal separations and divorce for same-sex couples.

At least one party must be a Thai national to enter a civil partnership, and all individuals must be over the age of 17.

The Civil Partnerships Bill was first endorsed by Thai Cabinet ministers in July 2020, but the 35-person body announced that it planned to undertake a comprehensive review of the legislation prior to introducing it to Thailand’s parliament, the National Assembly, for approval. The government reportedly met with Buddhist, Christian and Islamic leaders to discuss amendments to the proposal. It’s unclear what changes were made as a result.

Thai prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said the legislation is not only intended to advance LGBTQ+ equality, but also to ensure that Thailand complies with international human rights standards. Back in July 2021, a government representative said the bill is “a milestone for Thai society in promoting equality among people of all genders.”

“This strengthens the families of people with sexual diversity and is appropriate for the present social circumstances,” said spokesperson Rachada Dhnadirek in comments reported by the New York Times.

The Civil Partnerships Bill is expected to be submitted to parliament in the coming weeks, but Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said he could not promise that it would become law before the end of the government’s term. Chan-o-cha’s first term as prime minister ends in March 2023, and elections are expected to be held some time next year.

The legislation’s enactment would make Thailand just one of a handful of Asian municipalities to recognize same-sex unions. In May 2019, Taiwan allowed same-sex couples to wed for the first time following a ruling from its constitutional court two years prior. More than 200 local cities and districts in Japan have recognized some form of relationship recognition for same-sex couples, but a nationwide marriage equality bill has stalled for years.

Many LGBTQ+ advocates have criticized Thailand’s Civil Partnerships Bill, however. In March, the Cabinet declined to endorse a Marriage Equality Bill sponsored by the liberal Move Forward Party that would extend married same-sex couples all the same rights as heterosexuals. The bill proposes to make Thailand’s marriage laws gender-neutral, reading “spouse” instead of “husband” and “wife.”

 

Tattep Ruangprapaikitseree, secretary-general of the activist group Free Youth, said the Civil Partnerships Bill “isn’t a milestone for gender equality in Thailand.” He told CNN that the legislation is an “obstacle to reach marriage for all,” claiming its passage would make it difficult to pass more sweeping legislation in the future. 

“This is another form of discrimination in disguise,” added Tanwarin Sukkhapisit, the country’s first trans lawmaker, in comments to the U.S. news channel. “We don’t want anything special. We just want to be treated like others.”

LGBTQ+ people took to the streets on Sunday to call on the Thai government to legalize marriage equality during the Bangkok Pride parade, which was held two days before the Cabinet announced plans to move forward with the Civil Partnerships Bill. Organizers of the event, which marked Thailand’s first Pride march in 16 years, also called to address healthcare disparities and the criminalization of sex work.

But even if Thailand passes either of the marriage bills currently under consideration, the country has a lot of work left ahead until LGBTQ+ people achieve full equality. Although its parliament passed a federal non-discrimination law in 2015, the legislation allowed generous loopholes in matters of “education, religion and the public interest,” as the Bangkok newspaper Prachatai reported at the time. There is no legal recognition for trans or non-binary people.

Nico Lang

Nico Lang is an award-winning reporter and editor, and former contributing editor at Xtra. Their work has been featured in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Esquire, Harper’s Bazaar, Washington Post, Vox, BuzzFeed, Jezebel, The Guardian, Out, The Advocate, and the L.A. Times.

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Politics, Power, News, Asia, Marriage Equality

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