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Thailand Could Be First in Southeast Asia Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage


A relationship recognition bill inches closer to passage.

Thailand could be taking its first small steps towards marriage equality, but it still has a long way to go.

After languishing for seven years, a relationship recognition bill is finally nearing approval in Parliament, which would make Thailand the first country in Southeast Asia to recognize same-sex relationships. Taiwan, which is located just off the Chinese coast, legalized the freedom to marry earlier this year.

But the bill stops short of full marriage equality and is closer to the sort of limited domestic partnerships that preceded the freedom to marry in other countries.

Couples would be allowed to register relationships, make medical decisions, and inherit property from their spouses. The law doesn't go all the way toward full equality, however, and lacks protections in areas like joint adoption. Section 1448 of Thailand's Civil and Commercial Code bans marriage for same-sex couples.

Still, that's not dissimilar from the civil unions and domestic partnerships that many cities and states passed in the United States, which eventually led to the Supreme Court's historic ruling in favor of same-sex marriage four years ago. Those laws, while limited in scope, were used to demonstrate that no negative consequences resulted from extending relationship recognition to same-sex couples.

Currently, the Office of the Council of State is reviewing a draft of the bill. From there, it'll need approval from the Justice Minister and Justice Permanent Secretary before heading to parliament for a vote.

While support for marriage is growing, there's still disagreement about the best way to implement it among the two opposing parties in power. While the ruling Justice Ministry party prefers the bill as written, the more progressive Future Forward party wants to start over and amend existing civil code rather than pass an entirely new law.

A survey by the United Nations Development Program found that legislation is popular among Thai citizens: Two-thirds have no objection to same-sex unions. In 2016, a public meeting on the topic saw support at 78 percent overall and an even higher 87 percent among Muslims.

Thailand brings in an estimated $5.3 billion annually from LGBTQ+ tourism, but despite that, the country's laws are mixed regarding protections for its queer and trans citizens. Aside from relationship recognition, there is currently no legal process for a legal gender change, conversion therapy has yet to be banned, and gay men are prohibited from donating blood.

On the other hand, the country decriminalized homosexuality in the 1950s and has had a national nondiscrimination law since 2015.

Neighboring countries lag even further behind on LGBTQ+ rights, with Indonesia in particular moving in a problematic direction. Indonesia bans homosexuality and has begun cracking down on LGBTQ+ events in recent years.

RELATED | Thai University Mandates All Students Take Trans Rights Class

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Matt Baume