At the end of the rainbow
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At the end of the rainbow

Move Forward MP Tunyawaj Kamolwongwat welcomes the landmark Marriage Equality Act but says the fight isn't over

SOCIAL & LIFESTYLE
At the end of the rainbow
Senators deliberate on the marriage equality bill. (Photo: REUTERS/Chalinee Thirasupa)

When Tunyawaj Kamolwongwat saw his older sister go on a date as a child, he imagined her marrying a man with whom she had fallen head over heels in love.

But for himself, the story was different.

"I grew up in a time when a future for LGBTI people was unimaginable because society didn't allow us to [imagine our future]," said Tunyawaj.

Now a member of parliament for the Move Forward Party, Tunyawaj was a significant driving force behind the Marriage Equality Act, which recently got 400 out of 405 House of Representatives votes, to legalise same-sex marriage in the country. Such a move brings Thailand a step closer to becoming the third nation in Asia to ensure equal marital rights, following Taiwan which legalised same-sex marriage in 2019 and Nepal last year.

The LGBTI community in Thailand has been waiting for the right to marry same-sex partners for decades. In the past, according to Tunyawaj, Thai society did not understand sexual diversity, resulting in the deprivation of human rights.

"They thought we were abnormal," he said. "And sinful."

In the past decades, the LGBTI community was affected by a culture of alienation. There were even times when LGBTI artists were not allowed to appear on television as many feared it could to lead to children attempting to imitate the behaviour.

Such a mindset, coupled with hatred and misunderstanding, is why it has taken over 20 years for lawmakers to pass the Marriage Equality Act. Another reason is because there were no LGBTI members in the House of Representatives to raise the issue.

It wasn't until Tunyawaj became a member of parliament under the now-defunct Future Forward Party when the marriage equality issue was raised. In fact, marriage equality is one of the rare human rights topic that the House of Representatives has addressed.

The recent move allows sexually diverse individuals in Thailand to dig deep and have the courage to fight for their rights because Tunyawaj believes LGBTI individuals should have the same rights as heterosexual people.

"Marriage equality quickly became a national agenda thanks to the oppression of LGBTI," he said.

"If you ask who should be credited for Thailand passing the Marriage Equality Act, I think kudos should be given to all LGBTI people."

People participate in Bangkok Pride 2023. Varuth Hirunyatheb

The Marriage Equality Act grants basic rights to LGBTI individuals aged 18 and over to marry. The age was adjusted from 17 based on the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Additionally, married LGBTI individuals have the same rights, duties and responsibilities as their heterosexual counterparts, including property, inheritance and adoption rights -- not to mention a duty to care and nurture, and sign medical consent in case of a health-related emergency.

Also prior to the Marriage Equality Act, if a heterosexual married partner had an affair with a same-sex person, a divorce could not be filed. However, the new law allows people to file for divorce in cases of both homosexual and heterosexual affairs.

As of now, the Marriage Equality Act still requires approval from the Senate which, according to Tunyawaj, is scheduled for July. Then it will sail through for endorsement from HM the King before being published in the Royal Gazette, followed by a 120-day waiting period before the law is actually implemented.

"I think the law could become reality by early next year," said the MP.

Despite such a significant milestone, Tunyawaj said that he, alongside the LGBTI community, still needs to push for a bill for gender recognition as the first draft was rejected by the parliament in February with 154 votes in favour and 257 against. The bill, he explained, aims to allow transgender and non-binary people to choose titles of their choice on legal documents instead of the title that reflects their gender at birth.

The current mandate for individuals to use birth gender titles in legal documents instead of one that reflects their gender identities has caused some people difficulties in representing themselves when travelling or doing paperwork.

"Giving individuals the right to choose a title based on gender identity has received a lot of criticism in society," Tunyawaj commented. "People are still worried about potential fraud or crimes that could result if people chose their own titles. In my opinion, such concerns should not be a reason to deprive the rights of LGBTI people. Law enforcers should deal with cheaters, but it should not mean we become so afraid that basic human rights are denied.

Tunyawaj Kamolwongwat. Chanat Katanyu

"Whether it is an identification card, driving licence, birth certificate or house registration, if an individual's title in these documents aligns with their gender expression, they could live normal lives. Imagine if you go to the bank and hand an identification card and it takes an hour to prove if you are the person on the card. Or imagine if you travel abroad and are asked by an immigration officer to take off your clothes to prove your identity. That's not fun at all."

As the LGBTI community celebrates the passing of the long-awaited Marriage Equality Act which allows people to exercise their fundamental rights, Tunyawaj is still of the opinion that the success is only skin-deep. There are still other freedoms that need to be addressed and eventually given to those who deserve it.

"The passing of the Marriage Equality Act is a candy-coated acceptance," he said. "If you recognise gender diversity and gender freedom, there are many other things still left to be done -- titles, sex workers, other gender-related issues, and even military conscription. So if you really stand for principles of freedom, you need to recognise them all.

"I believe all human beings should be kind to instead of pointing gun at one another."

Key points of the Marriage Equality Act

- LGBTI individuals aged 18 and above can register their marriage.

- The law allows for engagement and marriage between same-sex couples.

- LGBTI married couples will have the same rights, duties and responsibilities as heterosexual couples, including property, inheritance and adoption rights. They are to take care of one another and are entitled to the right to sign medical consent.

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