Lawmakers on Thursday night overwhelmingly passed four draft bills on marriage equality in their first reading, moving the country closer to legalisation of same-sex unions.
The 371 members present in the House of Representatives passed the government-drafted Marriage Equality Bill by a vote of 360-10 with one abstention, paving the way for Thailand to become the first Asean nation to legally recognise same-sex marriage.
Also passed were three other bills: one drafted by civil society groups, and one each by the opposition Move Forward and Democrat parties.
The passage of the four bills paves the way for the formation of a committee to merge them into one, using the government-drafted bill as the main framework, ahead of further debate and votes on second and third reading expected next year.
If the legislation is enacted and receives royal assent, Thailand would become the third country in Asia, after Taiwan and Nepal, to recognise same-sex marriage.
“The first step towards change has begun today,” Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, a strong supporter of marriage equality, said in a post on X.
Rights activists have said that the country’s laws and institutions still do not reflect changing social attitudes and still discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people and same-sex couples.
Last year, parliament debated similar draft laws and the then-government’s same-sex civil union bill, but they did not come to a final vote before the session ended.
“In principle, this draft law is for the amendment of some provisions in the civic codes to open the way for lovers, regardless of their gender, to engage and get married,” Deputy Prime Minister Somsak Thepsuthin told the House, referring to the government’s draft.
“This will provide rights, responsibilities and family status as equal to the marriage between a man and a woman presently in all aspects.”
Mr Somsak said a government survey conducted between Oct 31 and Nov 14 showed 96.6% public support for the draft bill. (Story continues below)
Move Forward Party MPs celebrate the passage of the marriage equality bills in the House on Thursday evening. (Photo: Rukchanok Srinork X account @nanaicez)
68 provisions need amending
Most MPs who spoke during the hours-long debate in Thursday expressed support for all four bills seeking to amend the Civil and Commercial Code.
The government’s bill aims to amend 68 provisions under the Code to redefine terms under the law to ensure gender equality and diversity.
Under the bill, relevant agencies would have to review related laws so they are in line with the bill within 180 days, Mr Somsak said.
He also said the government was only seeking to amend the existing law, not to draw up a new law, so its bill would not be at odds with religious practices and beliefs held by the Islamic community.
Tunyawaj Kamolwongwat, a Move Forward list-MP, told parliament that the party’s version of the bill is meant to allow same-sex couples access to the rights they deserve under the law.
Nachalae Boonyaphisomparn, an LGBT activist and supporter of the civil sector bill, said it seeks to amend the Civil and Commercial Code to allow same-sex couples to legally register a marriage, with the same rights as male-female couples, including for adoptions.
Sanphet Boonyamanee, a Democrat MP for Songkhla, said the party’s version was intended to ensure equality for all. An 18-year-old person would be allowed to marry a foreigner and have the right to inherit from the deceased spouse’s estate, he added.
However, Sugarno Matha, a Prachachat Party MP for Yala, opposed all the bills, saying they were against the principles of Islam.