LGBTQ+ awaits 'groundbreaking' law
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LGBTQ+ awaits 'groundbreaking' law

Kingdom moves towards marriage equality as neighbours maintain strict prohibitions

A person attends the 2024 Bangkok Pride Festival on June 1. Many people that day marched in the capital to celebrate Pride Month. (Photos: Nutthawat Wichieanbut)
A person attends the 2024 Bangkok Pride Festival on June 1. Many people that day marched in the capital to celebrate Pride Month. (Photos: Nutthawat Wichieanbut)

After more than two decades of advocating for a marriage equality bill, Thailand is set to become Asia's next gay marriage hotspot.

After the bill becomes law, the kingdom could become a safe haven for LGBTQ+ couples in a region where most nations continue to oppose gay rights.

Now awaiting the final formality of royal endorsement from the King, the bill will take effect 120 days after being published in the Royal Gazette, heralding a new era for Thailand and its LGBTQ+ community.

Nada Chaiyajit, a lecturer at Mae Fah Luang University's School of Law and long-time transgender rights advocate, was a key adviser in drafting, compiling and submitting the bill to parliament.

She said Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin prioritised the bill, leading to its passage in just three months -- a process which Ms Chaiyajit describes as a miracle.

Thailand held a Pride parade on June 1 outside the CentralWorld shopping mall in the capital Bangkok. The event also celebrated the country's recent decision to legalise same-sex marriage.

"There is a strong call from communities that a marriage equality bill is needed," Ms Chaiyajit said. "Love wins."

She noted that even before this bill was passed, there had already been numerous ceremonial same-sex marriages in Thailand, and she expects this number to continue growing.

Under the bill, same-sex couples in Thailand will have the same rights as heterosexual couples.

Foreign same-sex couples need only secure citizenship documents from their respective embassies to have their relationship status verified and recognised in Thailand.These documents must be submitted to Thai authorities to complete the marriage registration process.

In Thailand, same-sex marriages will be official, but foreign couples may have no legal standing in their home countries due to their local laws.

However, this landmark legislation positions Thailand as a leader in LGBTQ+ rights in Southeast Asia and the policy is expected to boost tourism and the local economy.

Another key aspect of the bill is the shift in the use of the term "spouse" instead of "wife" or "husband" in a marriage, a move aimed at eliminating binary gender distinctions.

Same-sex couples will soon be able to adopt children, co-sign leases and more. However, a major of point of contention with the bill is whether they will be permitted to use surrogates, a restricted practice in Thailand.

Asst Prof Wimpat Rajpradit, from Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Law, explained that while the term "spouse" under the marriage equality bill will allow same-sex couples to adopt, they will not be able to use surrogates.

This is because current surrogacy law, enacted in 2015, still uses binary terms such as "wife" and "husband", he said.

Same-sex couples will not able able to use surrogates unless the law is amended, he said.

Ms Chaiyajit said the next key change needed is one concerning legal gender recognition. Under this bill, individuals are allowed to legally identify with different genders, she said. After three revisions, the bill will be submitted by the end of the month, she said.

Tiny slice of equality

Ryan Joseph Figueriedo, Founder of the Equal Asia Foundation, which promotes LGBTQ+ inclusion, expressed cautious optimism about the bill and looked forward to celebrating its passing with Thais.

"We are still in the early stages to see how legal equality turns into equality," Mr Figueriedo said.

He said Thailand remains a conservative Buddhist society, where karmic beliefs hold.
This fosters widespread tolerance but does not always translate into full acceptance, he explained.

Bangkok's bid to host World Pride 2030 has sparked scepticism among locals, with some questioning whether the bill's true motivation is economic gain rather than genuine social change.

In this context, Mr Figuerido warned against "pink-washing" or "rainbow washing", a tactic that shifts focus away from pressing economic issues by spotlighting LGBTQ+ initiatives.

"This is a limited set of rights for an elite few," he said.

Although this legislation is groundbreaking, Thailand's family structure remains deeply patriarchal.

Mr Figuerido hopes the bill will shift public perception, encourage people to step out of the shadows and provide access to resources previously unavailable.

"The legal marriage equality bill plugs a small part of the big piece of equality," Mr Figuerido said.

Other side of the rainbow

As Thailand prepares to become the 37th country to legalise same-sex marriage, its legislative progress stands in stark contrast to the legal landscape in neighbouring countries.

While the kingdom moves forward with new rights for LGBTQ+ individuals, regional counterparts continue to enforce strict prohibitions and limited protections.

Myanmar, west of Thailand, prohibits same-sex marriage, criminalising acts of "carnal knowledge against the order of nature" with penalties, including life imprisonment.

Laos, northeast of Thailand, decriminalised same-sex relations but does not allow marriage, adoption or civil unions.

Cambodia, southeast of Thailand, lacks anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination and marriage equality laws over concerns about adoption and HIV. Advocacy for increased rights continues.

Malaysia, south of Thailand, prohibits gay marriage with penalties of up to 20 years in prison and whipping.

While not targeting transgender people specifically, they face frequent arrests, violence and discrimination, including alleged police abuse.

In June, South Korea's Supreme Court reviewed whether same-sex partners can be registered as "dependent spouses", but Korean law does not require redefining "spouse".

Human Rights Watch has urged extending benefits to same-sex partners, citing discrimination. Same-sex relations are not criminalised, but marriage remains unrecognised.

Japan ruled in March that banning same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, though no new framework has been established. Polls show 70% support for same-sex unions.
Vietnam has made some progress for the LGBTQ+ community. The country allows ceremonial same-sex weddings and legal gender changes but lacks legal recognition of same-sex marriage.

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