23 May 2024

At least 142 LGBTQIA+ couples have lined up to register their marriage as Thailand stands poised to become the first Southeast Asian nation to recognize unions of non-heterosexual people in law.

The draft amendment to Thailand’s Civil and Commercial Code, better known as the Marriage Equality Bill, has already sailed through the House of Representatives with overwhelming support. The Senate followed suit earlier this month by approving the bill in principle. At this rate, 284 LGBTQIA+ individuals should be able to lawfully tie the knot in Thailand before the end of this year.

They will register their marriages at a historic moment,” Ann Chumaporn, an activist for gender diversity, told Thai PBS World.

Maple and her lover are among the 142 couples eager to launch a new era for Thailand by being the first to register their same-sex marriages.

I really can’t wait for the bill to take effect,” said the 38-year-old, who asked for her full name to be withheld.

Maple already has a daughter from a previous relationship with a man. However, he can’t compare with her current partner, a 30-year-old transgender individual with whom she has now built a family.

My son, now 18, has never talked about her biological father,” Maple revealed. “She calls my current partner Pa [dad]”.

Her trans partner loves and takes good care of her son, she adds. He has supported her son the way a good father would, even taking charge of transporting the teenager to and from tuition classes after school.

Society tends to think that marriages among heterosexual couples are happier. But that’s not true,” said Maple, who works as a sales representative for a gender-affirmation surgery clinic. “Any couple, regardless of their gender, can have a perfect family too.”

Benefits of marriage equality

The Marriage Equality Bill will replace gender-specific words in the Civil and Commercial Code to ensure LGBTQIA+ couples are treated the same as heterosexual couples under the law.

Specifically, it means LGBTQIA+ individuals will have the right to make medical decisions if their spouses are incapacitated and unable to decide for themselves. They can also represent their partners in legal processes and claim spousal benefits – including seeking Thai nationality. In the event of their spouse’s death, they will also have the right to organize a funeral and manage assets left behind by the deceased.

Moreover, LGBTQIA+ couples will have the right to adopt a child, who must be at least 15 years younger than them. Both partners, not just one, will be legally recognized as the kid’s parents. If a couple decides to get a divorce, laws will cover their spousal maintenance, division of joint assets, and child custody.

The Marriage Equality Bill therefore marks a milestone for gender equality in Thailand.

Maple said she was currently contributing to payments for the hire-purchase of her partner’s car, but was concerned because she knows deep down that under the current law she would have no rights over the vehicle if they were to separate in the future.

It would be better if our life as a couple was recognized by law. If that happens, we plan to hold a small wedding ceremony, buy a house together, and even adopt a girl.”

Long journey

The idea of recognizing same-sex couples in law was floated as far back as 2001, by then-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. But it was quickly shot down following strong opposition in what was then a deeply conservative Thai society.

More than a decade later in 2013, a bill on same-sex couples was proposed during the administration of Thaksin’s younger sister, Yingluck Shinawatra. However, it also fell by the wayside.

Ann said she and her network have been pushing for marriage equality for well over 12 years now.

Currently, only 38 territories in the world recognize same-sex couples in law. Of these, just two (Taiwan and Nepal) are in Asia, while Southeast Asia has none at all.

More needs to be addressed

While the Marriage Equality Bill marks a big step, Ann said more needs to be done to ensure that LGBTQIA+ couples can enjoy a normal family life.

In law, we should add the term ‘parents’ alongside ‘mothers’ or ‘fathers’ to reflect the reality of families in today’s context,” she said.

Such careful choice of words would help erode social perceptions that children must be cared for by mothers and/or fathers only, and prevent kids being exposed to ridicule or bullying if they don’t fit this norm.

Ann added that it would also be necessary to amend laws governing assisted reproduction because current rules only recognize sperm and egg owners as the parents.

For marriage equality to really materialize, such laws must be amended to ensure that couples registering their bond under the marriage equality law can have a child,” she said.

She also believes the law should allow people to identify themselves via the title that fits their gender preference.

Ann said her network had already gathered more than 10,000 signatures in support of the Gender Identity Bill, which addresses the title issue.

Gender equality good for business

Ann said passage of the Marriage Equality Bill would lure more LGBTQAI+ people to Thailand, spurring both tourism and the wider economy. Thailand already ranks among the world’s top 10 destinations for LGBTQAI+ travelers. But a law that enshrines gender diversity promises to boost the country’s appeal even further.

If things go as planned, we will seek the right to host World Pride 2030,” said the activist, who initiated Bangkok Pride and founded the Naruemit Pride Company Limited.

In her view, ample business opportunities will flow when Thailand cements its reputation for LGBTQAI+ friendliness in law.

Sexual diversity can be a soft power. We are not the ones seeking help. We are actually key drivers of the Thai economy,” she quipped.

Maple couldn’t agree more. She knows from experience that Thai cosmetic surgeons boast abilities that are second to none and believes the industry will enjoy a boost if gender diversity gains greater acceptance.

By Thai PBS World’s General Desk