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Human Rights Watch (HRW) calls on the Thai Senate to promptly pass the Marriage Equality bill, which was approved by an overwhelming majority in the House of Representatives yesterday (27 March), noting that passing the bill is an opportunity for Thailand to match its positive global reputation on LGBT rights with tangible legal protections. 

A couple in wedding dresses marched in the 4 June 2023 Bangkok Pride parade holding signs calling for marriage equality. (File photo)

The Thai parliament’s upper house should promptly pass a same-sex marriage bill that the lower house approved by an overwhelming majority on 27 March 2024, Human Rights Watch said today (28 March). Thailand would become the first country in Southeast Asia, and the second in Asia, to recognize same-sex relationships.  

Thailand’s House of Representatives passed the Marriage Equality Act with the approval of 400 of the 415 members present. Ten voted against the bill, two abstained, and three did not vote.

“Thailand is poised to send an important message to the rest of Asia by recognizing same-sex relationships,” said Kyle Knight, interim co-director of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights program at Human Rights Watch. “Lawmakers should not delay this important occasion, which could create momentum across the region to respect the fundamental rights of LGBT people.”

The rights to marry and to form a family are fundamental rights recognized in article 23 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Thailand has ratified. Various international human rights bodies, including the United Nations Human Rights Committee, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women have rejected the idea that a “family,” as understood under international human rights law, must conform to any single model.

Thailand’s Marriage Equality Act makes important amendments to the civil and commercial code language concerning spouses, in particular by changing “men and women” and “husband and wife” to “individuals” and “marriage partners.” However, LGBT rights advocates have raised concerns that it leaves in place “mother” and “father,” rather than replacing those terms with the more gender-neutral “parent,” which could cause complications for same-sex couples attempting to adopt and raise children.

Thirty-seven countries currently recognize same-sex marriage in their national laws. Taiwan became the first country in Asia to recognize same-sex marriage in 2019. Nepal has recognized some same-sex marriages in 2023 and 2024 under an interim order from the Supreme Court while a final judgment is forthcoming.

Passing same-sex marriage legislation is an opportunity for Thailand to match its positive global reputation on LGBT rights with tangible legal protections, Human Rights Watch said. For decades, Thailand has been a destination for LGBT tourists, and in particular for transgender people seeking gender-affirming health care. Thailand still offers no protections for transgender people, and lawmakers should also seriously consider passing much-needed reforms for trans rights as well.

“Social acceptance has its limitations and is no substitute for protections grounded in law,” Knight said. “Thailand is on the brink of offering more legal protections for LGBT people than it ever has in its history, and setting a positive example for the region.”

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