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Thailand Passes Bill To Legalise Same-Sex Marriage

Thailand has taken a significant step toward marriage equality as the lower house passed a bill granting legal recognition to same-sex marriage.

The bill still requires approval from the Senate and royal endorsement to become law, but it’s expected to pass by the end of 2024, making Thailand the only Southeast Asian country to acknowledge same-sex unions.

“This is the beginning of equality. It’s not a universal cure to every problem, but it’s the first step towards equality,” said Danuphorn Punnakanta, an MP and chairman of the lower house’s committee on marriage equality, during the presentation of the bill to parliament. “This law wants to return these rights to this group of people, not grant them the rights.”

The new law, passed by 400 out of 415 lawmakers present, will define marriage as a partnership between two individuals rather than between a man and a woman. It will grant lesbians, gays, and other LGBTQ+ couples equal rights to marital tax benefits, property inheritance, and medical treatment consent for incapacitated partners.

Thailand already prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation, establishing itself as one of Asia’s most LGBTQ+-friendly nations. However, achieving marriage equality has required years of advocacy.

Previous attempts to legalize same-sex marriage faltered despite widespread public support. A government survey late last year showed 96.6% of respondents favored the bill.

“I’m watching the parliamentary debate and keeping my fingers crossed,” said Phisit Sirihirunchai, a 35-year-old openly gay police officer. “I’m glad and already excited that it is really going to happen. I am coming closer and closer to seeing my dreams come true.”

Phisit and his partner, together for over five years, plan to marry on the day the law takes effect.

Several political parties pledged to recognize same-sex unions during last year’s election campaign. Prime Minister Sretta Thavisin has also voiced support since taking office in September last year.

In December, the lower house passed four proposed bills to recognize same-sex marriage—one from Mr. Thavisin’s administration and three from opposition parties. These were merged into a single bill, which the lower house approved on Wednesday.

Despite its progress, Thailand has not approved proposals to allow gender identity changes, despite the visibility of transgender communities.

Thailand stands out in Southeast Asia, where same-sex intimacy is illegal in some countries. It’s also an outlier in Asia.

In 2019, Taiwan became the first Asian nation to legalize same-sex marriage. Nepal registered its first same-sex union in November last year, following a Supreme Court ruling in favor of it.

This came a month after India’s top court ruled against it, leaving the decision to the government, which pledged to establish a panel to decide on legal rights for same-sex couples.

The LGBTQ+ community has also pushed for marriage equality in Japan, where district courts have deemed the ban unconstitutional. Public opinion favors it, but opposition from traditional sectors of the ruling party has hindered progress.

Singapore repealed a colonial-era law banning gay sex in 2022 but amended its constitution to prevent challenges to the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.

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