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Thailand takes major step toward marriage equality

Thailand’s lawmakers have passed equal marriage draft bills in the first reading, igniting hope among LGBTQ+ individuals and their supporters for the legalisation of same-sex marriage.

Peerapon Boonyakiat/HaRDstories
Celebrating LGBTQ+ Pride Month in central Bangkok on 4 June 2023. Peerapon Boonyakiat/HaRDstories

BANGKOK – The Thai parliament on Thursday passed four draft bills on same-sex marriage in the first reading, a significant step toward potential enactment next year.

Despite the country’s reputation as a queer-friendly haven and its constitution’s recognition of gender diversity, LGBTQ+ individuals currently cannot marry under Thai law. Activists have long advocated for reforming the strict marriage laws to permit marriage registration irrespective of gender.

In its first reading on 21 December, Thai lawmakers greenlighted a package of the draft bills with 369 votes in favour and 10 against, out of 380 votes cast.

Four drafts, one goal

The package includes four separate drafts, each proposed by different stakeholders: 1) the ruling party Pheu Thai, 2) the opposition parties Move Forward, 3) the Democrat Party, and 4) a civil society proposal backed by over 350,000 signatures.

All four drafts seek to amend the existing Thai marriage law, which only recognises marriages between men and women, with variations such as the minimum age for marriage (17 and 18 years) and the effective date post-cabinet resolution enactment (immediately and 180 days after).

Challenges ahead

The first reading’s success, reflecting broad policymaker support across parties, sets the stage for a joint committee to unify these drafts into a single bill in the coming year before two subsequent readings. However, there are concerns among advocates that the Senate, known for its conservative stance, might reject the bill during review.

“The final version of this draft legislation must not water down calls for the full spectrum of the right to family life,” said Chanatip Tatiyakaroonwong, a researcher with Amnesty International Thailand. “This includes access to adoption and inheritance for LGBTI couples, as well as the legal recognition of same-sex couples as ‘spouses’ on an equal footing with different-sex couples. 

Setting a precedent in the region

Debates have arisen over the bill’s potential conflict with religious beliefs. But proponents argue that marriage equality can coexist with Islamic law in Thailand’s southern provinces.

​​Over the past decade, Thai advocates have persistently called for same-sex marriage legislation, seeking equal rights for LGBTQ+ couples, including property rights. The Thai government’s initial move to establish a “civil partnership” law in 2013 was stalled by the 2014 coup d’état.

The push for marriage equality has recently regained momentum, alongside with the youth-led democracy movement. These new efforts advocate for amendments recognizing LGBTQ+ couples as spouses, offering potentially greater rights than civil partnerships.

If passed, this bill would position Thailand as the first country in Southeast Asia to legalise same-sex marriage, a notable contrast to nations like Malaysia, where same-sex relationships remain criminalised. In Asia, Taiwan was the first to recognise same-sex marriage in 2019, followed by Nepal in November 2023.

Read our story about the challenges faced by gender-nonconforming people in Thailand.