‘Monumental step forward’: Thailand to become first Southeast Asian nation to legalize same-sex marriage

Damond Isiaka
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Thailand will become the first nation in Southeast Asia to legalize same-sex marriage after the kingdom’s Senate approved a marriage equality bill on Tuesday, with supporters calling it a “monumental step forward for LGBTQ+ rights.”

The Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of passing the bill following a final reading, with 130 senators voting in favor. Only four members opposed the bill.

The bill still requires endorsement from the king before marriage equality can become reality in Thailand, but this process is considered a formality. The law will then come into effect 120 days after it is published in the royal gazette.

The result of the vote means that Thailand will become only the third place in Asia to allow for marriage equality after Taiwan legalized same-sex marriage in 2019 and Nepal in 2023.

“The bill represents a monumental step forward for LGBTQ+ rights in Thailand,” Panyaphon Phiphatkhunarnon, founder of Love Foundation – an NGO campaigning for LGBTQ+ equality in Thailand – told CNN.

“The potential impact of this bill is immense. It would not only change the lives of countless couples but also contribute to a more just and equitable society for all.”

The bill grants LGBTQ+ couples the same legal rights and recognition as heterosexual couples, including rights related to inheritance, adoption and health care decision-making.

“Beyond the legal implications, the passage of this bill would send a powerful message of acceptance and inclusion,” Panyaphon said.

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“It would inspire the younger generation to come out and live their lives authentically, it would showcase Thailand as a progressive and inclusive country – attracting tourists and businesses … and will foster a culture change where LGBTQ+ individuals feel accepted and supported.”

Bangkok residents Pokpong Jitjaiyai and Watit Benjamonkolchai say they plan to get married as soon as the law is passed.

“When I was young, people said people like us couldn’t have a family, can’t have children, so marriage was impossible,” Pokpong told CNN. “Over 10 years ago, we could not live together the way we are now. We could never be our true selves, the way it is now… and now I can freely say that I am gay.”

Pokpong said he hopes the marriage equality bill will start a “domino effect” in other countries.

“I want the people around the world see how love is. Love is love,” he said.

The marriage equality bill was supported by all the major parties and marks a significant step in cementing the country’s reputation as one of the friendliest in the region toward gay, lesbian and transgender people.

Previous attempts to legalize marriage equality over the past decade had stalled. In 2020, the Constitutional Court ruled that Thailand’s current law, which stipulates marriage being between a man and a woman, was constitutional.

Some of the major political parties contesting last year’s election pledged to push marriage equality as part of their campaign, including the progressive Move Forward Party, which won the most seats.

But that party, which had a huge youth following, was unable to form a government when former rivals joined forces to keep it out of office. Both the future of the party and of its popular former leader Pita Limjaroenrat remain uncertain as they face a slew of prosecutions.

Nonetheless Thailand’s Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, of the Pheu Thai Party, had also promised to bring the marriage equality bill to parliament.

Dressed in a rainbow shirt, Srettha attended Pride Month celebrations in Bangkok earlier in June, joining a massive parade through the capital’s streets.

“It is a basic right to choose who to love,” he said in a post on X on June 1.

Srettha has been keen to showcase Thailand as a welcoming destination for LGBTQ+ people, including voicing support for a bid to host World Pride in 2030.

“We have come far in our journey towards social equality. I want to reaffirm my government’s commitment in pushing for the realization of the Equal Marriage Bill which today we can visibly see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Srettha said on X on June 1.

“We look forward to hosting of the World Pride in 2030 in Thailand.”

Participants march on Sukhumvit road while holding a rainbow flag during the Bangkok Pride Parade 2024, in Bangkok, Thailand, on June 1, 2024.

Regional outlier

As only the third territory in Asia to embrace marriage equality, Thailand remains an outlier in a region that has been slow to grant LGBTQ+ rights and where members of the community often face discrimination, prejudice and even violence.

Rising religious conservatism and colonial-era laws have make life hard for the LGBTQ+ community in much of Southeast Asia, where same-sex relations are criminalized in several countries, including Myanmar and Brunei.

In Indonesia, homosexual sex is not illegal except in the extremely conservative province of Aceh. But LGBTQ+ people have faced widespread discrimination, police raids, vigilante attacks and open hostility by Indonesian authorities and Islamic groups across the country. Indonesia’s new Criminal Code, ratified in 2022, makes consensual sex outside of marriage a criminal offense and rights groups say this will disproportionately impact LGBTQ+ people as same-sex couples cannot marry in Indonesia.

In Malaysia, homosexuality is a crime punishable by fines and prison terms of up to 20 years. The Muslim majority country that has seen a rise in conservative attitudes in recent years. Rights groups say the LGBTQ+ community faces growing intolerance in Malaysia and accuse the government of being at least partly to blame.

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Singapore only repealed a colonial-era law that criminalized sex between men in 2022 but the Singapore government has reiterated its opposition to gay marriage and vowed to make it harder for people to legally challenge the government’s policies. In Singapore, couples in registered marriages have access to greater housing subsidies and adoption rights than single people.

Japan is the only Group of Seven (G7) country that has not recognized either same-sex civil unions or same-sex marriage, despite recent high court decisions that ruled not allowing same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

Last year, India’s top court declined to legally recognize same-sex unions in a landmark ruling, after campaigners had sought to obtain the right to marry under Indian law.

In mainland China, Beijing has widened crackdowns on LGBTQ activists and groups in recent years, with Chinese leader Xi Jinping increasingly stressing the ruling Communist Party’s absolute control over every aspect of society.

In other jurisdictions, campaigners have made small gains on a case by case basis as they appeal through the courts.

South Korea does not legally recognize same-sex marriage but in February 2023, a South Korean court ruled in favor of a same-sex couple seeking equal health benefits. South Korea has also drawn international criticism for its military penal code, which makes same-sex relations between men punishable by up to two years in prison. In past years, dozens have been arrested in what critics have called a “gay witch-hunt.”

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