11 July 2024

Despite being considered one of the world’s most tolerant societies, Thailand is unlikely to bless same-sex marriages any time soon.

Efforts to legalize the status of same-sex couples in Thailand have been dealt harsh blows recently. The Constitutional Court’s ruling last month supported the Civil and Commercial Code’s edict that only marriage between a man and woman is constitutional. Later it went even further in its explanation of the ruling, which seemed to reflect prevailing prejudices against Thailand’s LGBTQI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersexed) community.

In response, many from the LGBTQI community vented their frustration online, complaining the verdict portrayed them as less than human and as a minority trying to overthrow the culture of the majority.

“Viewed pessimistically, the ruling does not honor the humanity of LGBTQI people and is sexist,” said Kittinun Daramadhaj, president of the Rainbow Sky Association of Thailand. “But seen optimistically, it will bolster chances for the Life Partner Bill to be passed in Parliament.”

Legal standing for same-sex couples

Drafted by the Justice Ministry, the Life Partner Bill has already won approval from the Cabinet. Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam says he expects the draft law to enter Parliament during its current session.

“The draft has already been reviewed by the Council of State,” he pointed out.

Kittinun, who is also a lawyer who helped draft the Life Partner Bill, revealed that efforts to push for legalization of same-sex marriage in Thailand have been dragging on since 2012.

Thanks to a continuous push by advocates, a draft Civil Partnership Bill was eventually initiated by the Justice Ministry in 2013 but fell apart before it could enter Parliament.

Civil society and non-governmental organizations then advocated the Life Partner Bill but owing to the country’s political situation and complexities of the law, no significant progress has been made. Eventually, the Life Partner Bill became the responsibility of the Justice Ministry.

“I must say this version has made a big leap from what we saw in 2012. Initially, same-sex partnership [as defined in the old version] was only about 5 per cent similar to marriage between a man and a woman. But the current version has 95 per cent similarity,” Kittinun said.

He is also confident that the draft law will win parliamentary approval – provided it sails through under the current government.

“Yet I’m not so sure the bill will reach Parliament in time,” he said, pointing out that even

though the Cabinet cleared it on July 8, 2020, it still has not passed the government whip’s scrutiny.

Wissanu said the government whip returned the bill to the Justice Ministry for review after complaints were filed by some lawmakers.

“The review is supposed to focus on four familiar points, including religion and the opinion of relevant authorities. These points have already been addressed several times, so I can’t help but conclude that the push for a review is just a time-buying tactic,” Kittinun said.

Who opposes same-sex marriage?

Many Thais, including those in positions of power, still harbor prejudices against the LGBTQI community and consider same-sex partnerships as being against the law of nature.

Constitutional Court judge Taweekiet Meenakanit, for one, said that same-sex couples do not have the same sensitivity to build familial as a male-female partnership has.

The Muslim for Peace Foundation also openly opposes the Life Partner Bill, claiming that same-sex partnerships would not just shake society and morality, but also defy religious teachings.

Some Christian organizations have also reportedly voiced opposition to legalizing same-sex unions.

However, Kittnun is confident that opposition to legalizing same-sex partnerships will reduce significantly if the word “marriage” is left out of the draft.

Complexity and sensitivity

Wissanu said there was resistance to demands that same-sex partnerships be given the same legal recognition as heterosexual marriages. He added that the Council of State and several ministries do not agree with the idea of replacing the words “man and woman” with “persons” in the Civil and Commercial Code’s clause on marriage.

“Several countries have dealt with these issues separately,” Wissanu said. “It should be enough to let LGBTQI people legally register their relationships.”

The Life Partner Bill would allow same-sex couples to conduct joint financial transactions, jointly own assets, file for a divorce and demand alimony, and inherit assets in the event of their partner’s death.

The Move Forward Party has been pushing for an Equal Marriage Bill, though many people believe that amending the Civil and Commercial Code should be enough to give LGBTQI unions legal status.

The economic benefits

Move Forward MP Tunyawaj Kamolwongwat, who is a member of the LGBTQI community, said legal endorsement of same-sex partnerships is not only about boosting equality, but also benefiting the economy.

“People should have the right to start a family. And with their beloved by their side, [LGBTQI] people will invest together in a car, a house, etc,” Tunyawaj said.

The MP is also spokesperson for the House committee on Youth, Women, the Elderly, People with Disabilities, Ethnic Groups, and LGBTQI. 

Same-sex unions outside Thailand

The Netherlands was the first country to legalize same-sex marriage in 2001. Since then, 30 nations including Argentina, France, Iceland, Portugal, the US and Canada have followed in its footsteps. More than 30 other nations have also recognized some form of civil partnership for LGBTQI people.

In 2019, Taiwan became the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage. 

Hopes are now high among Thailand’s LGBTQI community that their unions will gain similar status given that gender diversity is widely recognized and tolerated here. Same-sex love has long been a mainstream phenomenon in Thailand, where gay and other “alternative-gender” relationships are regularly portrayed in TV soaps.

By Thai PBS World’s General Desk