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Yesterday (21 December), the Thai parliament passed the first reading of four bills proposing amendments to the marriage law to allow registration of marriage regardless of gender. If adopted, the amendments would make Thailand the first country in Southeast Asia to recognize marriage for all.

Participants in the 4 June 2023 Bangkok Pride parade carrying a large rainbow flag through the Siam shopping district. (File photo)

Colloquially known as the Marriage Equality bills, the different versions proposed by the Move Forward Party (MFP), the Cabinet, the Democrat Party, and a civil society network, will amend the sections concerning marriage and family in the Civil and Commercial Code to allow registration of marriage regardless of gender. If passed, the amendments will allow LGBTQ couples to legally register their marriage and be given the same rights and recognition as heterosexual couples.

The Cabinet, MFP, and the civil society versions of the bill were released to the public ahead of the session. All three propose to amend the Civil and Commercial Code to use “spouse” instead of “husband” and “wife” and “person” instead of “man” and “woman.” However, the civil society version also proposes to replace the terms “mother” and “father” with “parent” to make the text of the law entirely gender neutral. Other versions retain some gendered language, such as MFP’s version, which used the term “parent” as well as “mother” and “father.”

The MFP and civil society versions propose to raise the at which a person can legally marry without parental consent or court permission from 17 to 18 years old to bring it into line with international children’s rights principles. The Cabinet’s version keeps the original minimum age requirement of 17 years.

Both the MFP and the Cabinet versions propose that, after the amendments have been adopted, government agencies must amend other related legislation to allow LGBTQ couples to access welfare benefits now only given to “husband or wife.” The civil society version states that couples registering their marriage after the amendments are passed are to be considered legal spouses under existing legislations even if they use gendered terms.  

Shortly before Thursday’s parliamentary session, the Democrat Party proposed its own version of the bill. However, since it has not yet been placed on parliament’s agenda but was brought up because it is similar to the other versions, the full text has not been released to the public.

Despite objections from some Prachachart Party MPs, who objected to the amendments on religious grounds, parliament voted to 369 to 10 to pass all four bills.

A 39-person select committee will now be formed to work on the bills, before returning a combined draft to Parliament for the second and third readings. It will then be passed to the Senate for another three readings before the King signs them into law. During this time, the Prime Minister, an MP, or a Senator can ask the Constitutional Court to rule whether a bill violates the Constitution.

If a bill does not gain approval from the Senate, it will go back to Parliament for consideration. If the Senate requests amendments to the bill, Parliament will also have to vote on whether it agrees with the Senate. If Parliament disagrees with the Senate, another select committee will need to be formed to amend the bill before putting it through the parliamentary process again.

Members of the committee will be appointed from the Cabinet and political parties. Since the civil society version of the marriage equality bill also passed, at least one third of the committee must be appointed from representatives of the voters who submitted the bill, as required by  the 2019 Rules of Procedure of the House of Representatives.

Participants in the 4 June Bangkok Pride parade holding a banner campaigning for marriage equality. (File photo)

Amnesty International Researcher Chanatip Tatiyakaroonwong said last night (21 December) ahead of the parliamentary vote that the bills and the parliamentary debate on them “represent a moment of hope” for LGBTQ rights in Asia.

If the amendments are adopted, Thailand will become the third place in Asia to legalise same-sex marriage, after Taiwan and Nepal, and the first in Southeast Asia.

Chanathip called on parliament to ensure that the final version of the legislation covers the “full spectrum” of rights for LGBTQ couples and recognizes them on an equal footing with heterosexual couples.

“If legislation passes on first reading, Thailand’s Parliament should build on the momentum and prioritize the immediate adoption of this law, taking note of the celebratory reaction as a sign that the country is hungry for equality. Lawmakers in Parliament should continue to demonstrate to Thailand’s LGBTI community that they are listening and valuing their voices, wishes and perspectives.

“Guaranteeing full marriage equality in law not only sends a message to the rest of the region but to the rest of the world, at a time when countries all over the globe are changing outdated laws and building more inclusive societies,” he said.

Meanwhile, the human rights organization Fortify Rights called on the parliament to prioritize marriage equality and urgently enact the legislation.

“Parliament’s decision is a monumental step for Thailand to provide full and equal rights for LGBTI+ people,” said Mookdapa Yangyuenpradorn, Thailand Human Rights Associate at Fortify Rights.

A version of the marriage equality 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 a select committee, but were not returned to parliament in time for their second and third readings before parliament was dissolved.

Under Thai law, the Cabinet has 60 days from the opening of parliament to request parliament to reconsider any bill that lapsed after parliament was dissolved. To prevent their version of the Marriage Equality bill from being dismissed if the cabinet was not appointed in time to restore it to parliament, MPs from the Move Forward Party re-submitted their version of the bill in August 2023.

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