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'Monumental step forward': Thailand to become first Southeast Asian nation to legalise same-sex marriages

At least 130 out of 152 members of Thailand's Senate voted in favour of the marriage equality bill, with four voting against and 18 abstaining. Thailand has a significant LGBTQ population but activists have spent two decades for this landmark step in the historically conservative culture.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Bangkok Published on: June 18, 2024 18:33 IST
Thailand passes bill to legalise same-sex marriages
Image Source : REUTERS Members of the LGBTQ+ community celebrate after the passing of the marriage equality bill in Thailand's Senate.

Bangkok: Thailand's Senate voted overwhelmingly in favour of a bill legalising same-sex marriages, making it the third Asian country and the first nation in Southeast Asia to allow such marriages, in a big win for LGBTQ groups. The marriage equality bill passed its final reading with the approval of 130 of the 152 members of the Senate with four voting against it and 18 abstaining.

The bill now needs the pro forma endorsement of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, followed by its publication in the Government Gazette, which will set a date within 120 days when it becomes effective. Thailand will become the third place in Asia, after Taiwan and Nepal, to allow same-sex marriage, after two decades of efforts by activists.

"Today we celebrate another significant milestone in the journey of our Equal Marriage Bill," Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin said in a post on X. "We will continue our fight for social rights for all people regardless of their status."

A 'monumental step forward'

LGBT advocates called the move a "monumental step forward," as Thailand would be the first nation in Southeast Asia to enact marriage equality legislation. “Today, love trumps prejudice... after fighting for more than 20 years, today we can say that this country has marriage equality,” said Plaifah Kyoka Shodladd, an 18-year-old who identifies as non-binary, while thanking everyone for supporting the legislation.

Thailand, one of Asia's most popular tourist destinations, is already known for its vibrant LGBT culture and tolerance. At the start of June, thousands of people and activists paraded through the streets of Bangkok and were joined by Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, who wore a rainbow shirt to celebrate Pride Month.

Previously, the marriage equality bill granting full legal, financial and medical rights for marriage partners of any gender, sailed through the House of Representatives in April with the approval of 400 out of 415 members. The legislation will amend the country's Civil and Commercial Code to replace gender-specific words such as “men and women” with gender-neutral words such as “individual.”

However, one member of the Senate, retired army Gen. Worapong Sa-nganet, argued that the gender-specific terms should still be included in the law along with the gender-neutral terms. He said excluding them would be a severe “subversion of the institution of family” in Thailand.

Nationwide celebration after landmark decision

Meanwhile, lawmakers and activists were seen celebrating in Thailand's parliament, waving rainbow flags and smiling, with some raising their fists in solidarity with the LGBT community. The Government House was decorated with rainbow carpets, flags and a giant balloon in the shape of two hands making a heart sign and will host a celebration soon.

Supporters planned to march from Parliament to Government House for the celebration. "This would underscore Thailand's leadership in the region in promoting human rights and gender equality," the Civil Society Commission of marriage equality, activists and LGBTQI couples said in a statement.

This step is an unprecedented measure in Thailand's history. The government and state agencies are historically conservative, and advocates for gender equality have had a hard time pushing lawmakers and civil servants to accept change. Despite Thailand's reputation of tolerance, members of the LGBTQ+ community say they face discrimination in everyday life.

The government led by the Pheu Thai party, which took office last year, has made marriage equality one of its main goals. It made a major effort to identify itself with the annual Bangkok Pride parade June, where thousands celebrated in one of Bangkok's busiest commercial districts.

(with inputs from agencies)

ALSO READ | Japan High Court rules 'denying same-sex marriage is unconstitutional', asks govt to overturn law

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