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A network of gender equality activists has announced they will be submitting a bill to parliament proposing amendments to sections on marriage and family in the Civil and Commercial Code to allow couples to register their marriage regardless of gender.

A presentation on the Marriage Equality bill proposed by civil society network given at the 20 September press conference.

The network proposes that all terms used are gender-neutral, and to raise the age at which a person can get married from 17 to 18 years to be in line with international child protection principles. With these amendments, gendered terms such as man, woman, husband, wife, father, or mother will no longer be used in these sections, and will be replaced by the gender-neutral terms “person,” “spouse,” and “parent.” This will ensure that everyone, regardless of gender identity, expression, or sexual orientation, will be able to legally register their marriage and that all married couples will be entitled to the same rights, duties, and state welfare.

Former National Human Rights Commissioner Naiyana Supapung said during a press conference on Wednesday (20 September) that, under the Constitution, every citizen must be equal before the law regardless of gender, race, or religion, and so their rights should be protected by the same legislation. Amending the Civil and Commercial Code to make it gender-neutral would ensure that anyone who forms a family will receive equal rights regardless of their gender.

She stressed that although the amendments constitute what is commonly known as the Marriage Equality Bill, it is not a separate piece of legislation but amendments to existing laws. This differs from the Civil Partnership Bill previously proposed, which is a separate piece of legislation for LGBTQ marriage. The Civil Partnership Bill has also been criticized for not giving the same rights to civil partners as the Civil and Commercial Code gives to married couples.

Naiyana Supapung

Naiyana said that she believes there should be nothing preventing the Marriage Equality Bill from being passed if it goes before parliament again. She noted that LGBTQ rights were one of the issues raised during the pro-democracy protests that started in 2020. She also said that, in her 40 years of working as a legal advocate, she has never seen the Constitutional Court as widely criticized as it was when it ruled that Section 1448 of the Civil and Commercial Code, which governs marriage, does not violate the Constitution and is not discriminatory.

In the past, Naiyana said, people have been wary of criticizing rulings made by the high courts out of concern that they would be charged with contempt of court, but when the marriage law ruling was made in 2021, the Court was widely criticized by both the public and academics for its ruling based on gender bias and sexism. She also noted that during the last parliament’s term, the Marriage Equality Bill proposed by MPs from the Move Forward Party passed its first reading along with the Civil Partnership Bill proposed by the Ministry of Justice, and that no political party has openly declared that it will not vote for marriage equality, while individual MPs who spoke out against it were doing so as members of religious groups.

Chumaporn Taengkliang

While a petition launched in 2020 to collect signatures backing the amendments gained over 300,000 signatures, activist Chumaporn Taengkliang said during Wednesday’s press conference that parliament officials have asked them to first register the bill with the parliament office before collecting signatures, and so they will have to launch the campaign again as parliament will not accept the signatures they had already collected.

Under the 2021 Initiative Process Act, citizens intending to introduce a law to the House of Representatives are required to submit a petition signed by 20 eligible voters to the Secretariat of the House of Representatives, which will check whether it meets the requirements for the types of bill that can be proposed by civil society. If it meets the requirements, it needs at least 10,000 signatures to be introduced to the House.

Chumaporn said that the network plans to register their bill with the House within the next week before launching a petition to collect signatures. She said that they are aiming to collect at least 15,000 signatures and will be submitting the bill to parliament as soon as possible, because it is early in the parliament’s term and not much legislation has yet been introduced to parliament. They will then be running a campaign to ensure that the bill, along with a Gender Recognition Bill proposed by civil society and the repeal of the Prostitution Suppression Act, will be seen by parliament in their first reading as soon as possible.

“We actually can have marriage equality by Valentine’s if parliament shows sufficient responsibility for their own words, because you have been using marriage equality and gender recognition, and in many places talk about ending the suppression of prostitution, to gain votes so you can have power in parliament. We’re reminding you of it,” she said.

Meanwhile, another proposed amendment to the Civil and Commercial Code proposed by MPs from the Move Forward Party is now up for public consultation along with a Gender Recognition Bill proposed at the same time.

The Bill was first proposed by MFP MPs during the last parliament. It was placed on the agenda in November 2020 and faced repeated delays before passing its first reading on 15 June 2022 along with a Civil Partnership Bill proposed by the Ministry of Justice and endorsed by the Cabinet and the Office of the Council of State. Both bills were then forwarded to an ad-hoc committee, but were not returned to parliament in time for their second and third readings before parliament was dissolved.

As cabinet appointment has been delayed, the Move Forward Party re-submitted the bill in August to prevent it from being automatically dismissed if a cabinet was not appointed in time to restore it to parliament. As no cabinet was appointed until after the 3 September deadline, the original bill that lapsed after the last parliament was dissolved was automatically dismissed, and the re-submitted bill would have to go through the process again, starting with public consultation and its first reading in parliament.

The Move Forward version of the Marriage Equality Bill proposes to amend the Civil and Commercial Code to use “spouse” instead of “husband” and “wife” and “person” instead of “man” and “woman.” It also proposes to raise the age at which a person can legally marry without parental consent or court permission from 17 to 18 years old. However, activists have noted that it retains some gendered language, including “father” and “mother,” which is used alongside the gender-neutral term “parent.”

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