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The Thai Parliament on Wednesday (15 June) voted to pass the Marriage Equality bill and the Civil Partnership bill in their first reading.

A list of MPs was placed in front of parliament entrance by activists gathering to wait for the result of the vote. A note was placed on the board after the result came out saying that the bill has passed in its first reading.

The Marriage Equality bill was proposed MPs from the Move Forward Party (MFP) and proposes to amend the Civil and Commercial Code to allow marriage registration regardless of gender. 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.

It proposes that the terminology used in the current marriage law be changed to use “spouse” instead of “husband” and “wife” and “person” instead of “man” and “woman.” If passed, the proposed amendments would allow individuals to be legally married regardless of gender, and ensure that they receive equal rights, duties, and protection under the law. If the bill passes, LGBT couples who register their marriage will be able to adopt children together, make medical decisions on behalf of their partner, and in cases where one partner dies, the other will be able to inherit from their partner and make legal decisions about their partner’s assets.

The bill has been on the parliamentary agenda since November 2020. After Parliament voted in February 2022 to forward it to the Cabinet for consideration, the Cabinet rejected it, claiming that it is similar to the Civil Partnership bill proposed by the Ministry of Justice.

It was previously scheduled to be considered by Parliament on 8 June, but was delayed after Parliament spent the entire meeting debating other bills. A day before the Marriage Equality bill was scheduled to go before Parliament, the Cabinet endorsed the Civil Partnership bill, proposed by the Ministry of Justice and approved by the Office of the Council of State.

The Civil Partnership bill defines a civil partnership as a union between two people of the same gender, both of whom must be at least 17 years old and at least one of whom must be a Thai national. The bill states that civil partners must live together as family, and that the partnership ends when one partner dies. It also lists the circumstances in which partners may seek divorce, such as domestic violence or infidelity.

The bill allows civil partners to adopt children together and inherit property from each other. Partners may also make medical decisions on each other’s behalf and to organize their partners’ funerals. It also states that sections relating to marriage and family in the Civil and Commercial Code may apply mutatis mutandis to civil partners in some cases.

However, the Civil Partnership bill has previously been criticized by civil society for being unclear about whether certain rights are granted, and whether people would be denied their rights if they have to depend on an official’s discretion on whether certain laws apply to them. Concerns have also been raised that having separate legislation for LGBTQ marriage would worsen the stigma against the LGBTQ community in Thailand, and that if the Civil Partnership bill passes, it will be more difficult to campaign for further amendments to the Civil and Commercial Code as it could be argued that LGBTQ marriage is already legalized.

The bill also triggered public criticism last week, after the full text of the draft law was released and it was noted that those who wish to register a civil partnership have to pay a higher fee than those registering a marriage.

Although there are no fees for registering a marriage or a civil partnership at a registration bureau, such as a district office, there is a fee of 1000 baht for registering a civil partnership outside of a district office, such as at home or at a wedding plus another 1000 baht as transportation fee for the official. Meanwhile, the fee for registering a marriage outside of a district office is 200 baht, and there is no requirement for transportation fees.

Couples registering a marriage during special events as announced by a provincial governor and approved by the Ministry of Interior, such as during tourism events, have to pay a fee of 20 baht, while those registering a civil partnership have to pay a fee of 500 baht.

Those registering a marriage at a bureau in a remote area have to pay a fee of 1 baht, while those registering a civil partnership have to pay 100 baht. There is also a 100-baht fee to get a copy of a civil partnership certificate, while a copy of a marriage certificate costs 10 baht.

Move Forward MP Tunyawat Kamolwongwat joined the activists in front of the parliament complex to celebrate after the Marriage Equality bill passed in its first reading

Both the Marriage Equality bill and the Civil Partnership bill went before Parliament on Wednesday (15 June), along with another Civil Partnership bill proposed by the Democrat Party, and another bill proposed by the Cabinet amending articles concerning divorce in the Civil and Commercial Code.

The four bills were being debated simultaneously, but Parliament decided to vote on each bill separately. All four passed in the first reading.

An ad-hoc committee will now be formed to work on the bills, before returning them to Parliament for the second and third readings. They 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 ad-hoc committee will need to be formed to amend the bill before putting it through the consideration process again.

LGBTQ activists celebrate new milestone

Activists celebrating after parliament voted to pass the Marriage Equality bill

While Parliament is debating the Marriage Equality bill and the two Civil Partnership bills, gender equality and LGBTQ rights activists gathered at the Parliament complex at Kiakkai to show their support for the Marriage Equality bill and to wait for the result of the session.

Activist Phromsorn Viradhammajari said that the Cabinet’s Civil Partnership bill treats the LGBTQ community as second-class citizens, something they do not want to be, and that the activists came to Parliament to show that they are normal people and are not demanding a privilege but a right that everyone else has.

The activists initially gathered in front of the Parliament complex, before moving to a waiting room by the entrance, where they gathered to listen to the debate through a speaker. They also played music, danced, and placed a large rainbow Pride flag in front of the waiting room.

After Parliament voted to pass the Marriage Equality bill in its first reading, the activists celebrated with music, dancing, and waving rainbow flags. They were also joined by MPs from the Move Forward Party and the Pheu Thai Party who came to see them after Parliament adjourned.

Chumaporn Taengkliang

Chumaporn Taengkliang, an activist from the gender equality activist group Feminist’s Liberation Front Thailand, said that she was initially worried since the government whip announced ahead of the session that they would reject the Marriage Equality bill, but she was glad that MPs expressed their support for the bill and presented information to back it, and that several government MPs voted for a bill proposed by an opposition party.

Chumaporn said that the recent Bangkok Naruemit Pride event gave people hope and the courage to join public campaigns. She also said that Parliament voting for both the Progressive Liquor bill and the Marriage Equality bill would strengthen the people’s trust in their representatives.

“I believe that this is a significant milestone. I think that everyone has the right to propose a law. It is not exactly wrong to propose the Civil Partnership bill, but proposing a discriminatory law is a problem,” Chumaporn said.

Chumaporn said she would like the Democrat Party’s Civil Partnership bill, which does not limit such partnerships to same-sex relationships, to be considered together with the Marriage Equality bill, which would allow everyone to register their marriage, so that heterosexual couples can also register as civil partners if they choose, since it is done this way all over the world. For her, it would not be a problem if the government allowed this.

Move Forward MPs came to meet the activists after Parliament adjourned.

Nevertheless, Chumaporn said that the current Parliament lacks stability, and MPs have less than a year left in office, so it is not guaranteed that these bills will go through the consideration process. She said that people still need to keep their eyes on these bills, since the authorities might not be truly progressive or believe in equality, and they still have to campaign for amendments if there are still flaws in the bills.

As for the Marriage Equality bill drafted by the civil society network Rainbow Coalition for Marriage Equality, Chumaporn said they will continue to gather signatures and that they are still aiming for 1 million signatures. She said that these signatures are an expression of people who are still in hiding because they have faced violence and are living in fear. For her, the movement for marriage equality has come a long way, given that she has heard many progressive comments made in Parliament, which she said is a result of the support shown on social media and at various Pride events.

“The campaign does not have only one use. It is also supports activists and LGBT people across the country,” she said.

Akekawat Pimsawan

Meanwhile, Akekawat Pimsawan from the Rainbow Coalition for Marriage Equality said that Parliament passing the Marriage Equality bill gave them hope. They said that, listening to Parliament, they felt that the bill might pass, and that once the bill has passed, they felt that something has already changed, and while they said that they have some worries, they will continue fighting.

“It is not like seeing success, but it’s like unlocking us. It’s like we’re free,” Akekawat said.

Nevertheless, Akekawat said that they still need to keep an eye on the content of the bill, and to keep campaigning so that the bill does not take away the rights of LGBTQ people, since the legislation needs to make sure that everyone has equal rights and duties in marriage, and if the law is put into effect and still puts LGBTQ people into heterosexual gender norms, they will need to continue campaigning.

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