Marriage equality bill poised for final push
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Marriage equality bill poised for final push

While welcome, the milestone bill still needs some work as it makes its way through the Senate.

Moment of hope: Same-sex couples will have the legal right to register when the marriage equality bill is enforced, which may happen this year.
Moment of hope: Same-sex couples will have the legal right to register when the marriage equality bill is enforced, which may happen this year.

The Marriage Equality Bill is expected to pass the final round of Senate voting this month. The bill, which may take effect by the end of this year, will make Thailand the first country in Southeast Asia to support gender equality.

The government wants to assure LGBTQ+ communities that Thailand is a safe and welcoming destination for all, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin said.

The bill, known as the Marriage Equality Bill (or the "Bill of Civil and Commercial Code Amendment") aims to amend marriage laws and other regulations related to marriage to ensure same-sex couples have the same rights as heterosexual couples.

How did the idea take hold?

The impetus behind the bill started in 2001 when Interior Minister Purachai Piamsomboon proposed a law allowing same-sex marriage.

"Is it time for Thailand to accept same-sex marriage? Now we should consider what suits Thai society and what we can tolerate," he said in April that year.

He gave examples of countries which had passed such a law, and Thailand should update its laws.

However, his idea was shot down by Thaksin Shinawatra, prime minister at that time, who said Thailand was not ready for the homosexual issue.

Many politicians also opposed the idea.

It was brought back during the administration of Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha in 2019 as a civil partnership bill.

In 2022, the House of Representatives approved a civil partnership bill and marriage equality bill but the measures were dropped when parliament was dissolved to pave the way for the general election on May 14, 2023.

In December last year, the lower house passed four marriage equality bills which were proposed by the cabinet, the Move Forward Party, the Democrat Party and the civil sector. The House committee was set up to consider the bills and drew on the bill proposed by the cabinet for most of the content.

On March 27, the House passed the marriage equality bill.

What is the case for such a law?

The law asserts that a family institution is a crucial social development unit and Thailand needs legislation to improve the standard of living for its citizens.

However, the Civil and Commercial Code restricts the formation of families to partnerships between men and women.

This is incompatible with the state of society today, observers say, when families comprise same-sex individuals and receive foster care equivalent to that of married men and women.

Some sections of the Civil and Commercial Code must be amended to enable same-sex couples to get engaged or married.

Married same-sex couples will have equal rights, obligations, and family status under the measure such as those of married men and women. The goal is to fortify familial bonds that are formed between people no matter what sex.

What is happening now?

The bill passed a first reading by the Senate on April 2 and is now in the process of being reviewed by a 27-member committee of the upper house.

The committee includes senators, civil society members and ministers. Senators are expected to vote on the bill again on June 18.

If the upper house rejects the bill, the lower house may call a new round of voting to pass the law without Senate approval.

The law is expected to take effect 120 days after it is published in the Royal Gazette following parliamentary approval and royal endorsement.

What are the key messages?

The bill will open marriage to people of the same sex and give them marriage rights under the same conditions as heterosexual couples.

They can also draw on other benefits including the right to adopt children, manage and inherit the assets of their spouses, the right to divorce, right to state welfare if their spouses are civil servants, and tax deductions.

They can have their marriage registered when they are 18 years old or above. However, if they are under 20, they need to have parental consent.

The bill uses gender-neutral terms for a married couple as "two individuals" instead of "a man and a woman," and their legal status is changed from "husband and wife" to "spouses."

Can foreigners get their marriage registered?

LGBTQ+ people from any country can register their marriage in Thailand or register with their Thai spouses. Foreign same-sex marriage couples will have the right to a spousal visa when the bill takes effect.

What can we expect?

When the law is enforced, it should create a better understanding among different groups, strengthen family institutions, empower children who are LGBTQ+ or living with LGBTQ+ families, ensure legal protections among LGBTQ+ families, and reinforce Thailand's role as LGBTQ+ rights supporters in the international community and highlighting government's intention to support their rights.

What needs to be improved?

Some sections of the bill still need to be changed. For example, Section 1453 says a woman can remarry after her husband dies or divorces after 310 days unless the woman gave birth during the period, remarries to the same spouse, has a medical certificate to show that she is not pregnant or an order by a court.

The amended bill still uses the words "woman" which refers to a biological woman and overlooks those who can bear children like a transman who can still give birth.

The law has not yet amended the words "father and mother" to indicate the parents of a child.

Civil groups suggest to use the word "first-level guardian" along with "father" or "mother" to refer to their couple in sections related to guardianship as it is a gender-neutral term to ensure the inclusive guardianship of all families.

There is also a need to change another related law involved with gender identity as transmen and transwomen are still called by their birth genders, not by their preferred gender.

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