Ministry to revive gay rights bill
Petition provides new impetus to law change after three-year lull
The Ministry of Justice has vowed to take action in favour of a petition demanding a stalled bill on gay rights be enacted.
The Constitutional Court of Taiwan ruled in favour of same-sex marriage on May 24 and now calls to follow suit in Thailand may be gaining strength.
Pitikan Sithidej, director-general of the Rights and Liberties Protection Department at the Justice Ministry, said he received the petition to set the wheels in motion again on May 17 and will push for getting the bill approved at the earliest possible date.
The petition has been signed by nearly 60,000 people and was organised by the website Change.org.
It backs same-sex marriage rights and other equal benefits for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people and couples. The proposed law has been in a state of limbo since it was introduced in 2013.
Even though Thailand is viewed by many as a paradise for gay people given its permissive culture and move to embrace transgenders, known here as katoey or "ladyboys", as a de facto third gender, gay couples cannot legally receive a marriage certificate in Thailand.
A gay partner also cannot retrieve his or her partner's body from a hospital or inherit that person's assets or properties, according to the law. Many Thais complain they have been forced to surrender a number of basic rights enjoyed by straight couples in society due to their sexual preferences. These include reduced taxes, health coverage and pension benefits.
The issue resurfaced last week when LGBTI communities turned up in front of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre on May 24 to commemorate one of the less well-known red-letter days: the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia (IDAHOT). But representatives of the various groups said they still have not received a specific timeline for when action on the bill will be taken.
LGBTI celebrities joined a chorus of people who turned out at the centre to defend gay people's rights, with 17-year-old transgender fashionista Apichet "Madaew" Atirattana one of the higher-profile stars involved. He designed the famous "tuk tuk" costume for Miss Thailand Universe 2015 winner Hirankrit "Som-O" Pattaraboriboonkul.
At the recent gathering in Bangkok, local diplomats and other figures voiced their concerns about a society that forces some people to hide their sexuality and live in shame and fear.
Some talked about their own experiences and how transformative they were.
"I was shaking inside, as a mother, when my daughter came out as gay. She was 14 back then," Donica Pottie, the Canadian ambassador to Thailand said, adding that she had since learned to respect and admire her daughter's decision.
Brian Davidson, the British ambassador to Thailand, is openly gay. He married his Chinese-American partner Scott Chang in Beijing three years ago when serving as consul-general in Shanghai before he was transferred to Bangkok.
"I did not fear that my parents would stop loving me, but I was afraid that I would disappoint them," he said about his decision to tell his family about his sexuality. "Family comes in different sizes and forms," said Mr Davidson, who raises a baby son with his partner here. He said he considers the surrogate mother part of their extended family.
Miss Pitikan said that being homosexual is not a barrier to starting a family. "Love has no gender," she said.
The World Bank Group and government recently conducted a survey on 3,500 people who work in Bangkok, including 2,302 who identify as LGBTI. It found that over 50% of LGBTI respondents had been refused jobs because of their sexuality, and 40% of those who are transgender had faced harassment or ridicule at work due to their sexual preference.
Some 24% of lesbians and gay men were told not to show or mention being LGBTI at work, the survey found. Meanwhile, among LGBTI people, lesbians experienced significantly more discrimination.
If the proposed bill is passed it will be the first legislation in favour of gay rights in Thailand. It would also make the kingdom the first nation in Southeast Asia where gay couples are recognised in the eye of law.
The proposed law defines "civil partners" as "two persons of the same sex" who register their relationship under the civil partnership law.