Thailand’s LGBTQ+ community hopeful as marriage equality bill is set to be discussed in Parliament

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Voice coach Vuthipand Pongtanalert, left, instructs members of The Bangkok Gay Men's Chorus in a lesson in in Bangkok, Thailand, Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023. Thailand's Parliament is set to debate Thursday, Dec. 21, a final cabinet-endorsed draft bill to pass landmark legislation allowing members of the LGBTQ+ community to get married. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

BANGKOK – Naphat Krutthai and Rasithaya Jindasri have been in a committed relationship for eight years, but only now can they consider getting married.

In a clothing shop in Siam Square, a commercial hub in Thailand's capital, the happy couple excitedly eyed multi-colored garments as they discussed their potential wedding. Naphat, a transgender man, and Rasithaya, a woman, want to formalize their union, as Parliament is set to debate Thursday a final Cabinet-endorsed draft bill to pass landmark legislation allowing members of the LGBTQ+ community to get married.

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The bill seeks to amend the Civil and Commercial Code, changing the words “men and women” and “husband and wife” to “individuals” and “marriage partners.”

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin told reporters Tuesday after the Cabinet meeting that it will grant LGBTQ+ couples the “exact same equal rights” as heterosexual couples. This would make Thailand the first country in Southeast Asia to pass such a law and the third in Asia, after Taiwan and Nepal.

Naphat — or “Jim” as he’s known — said he and Rasithaya planned to register their marriage as soon as the law allowed it. As an advocate for trans rights himself, Naphat told The Associated Press, the anticipated change was not just a formality. A marriage certificate would allow LGBTQ+ couples a range of benefits, including healthcare and inheritance rights, that they have long been denied.

“It means a lot. This is the eighth year of our relationship. But our status isn't legally recognized,“ he said. ”When either of us gets sick or has an emergency, we can’t take care of each other properly. So it really matters to us.”

Thailand has a global reputation for acceptance and inclusivity. In June, downtown Bangkok staged its annual Pride Parade. It drew tens of thousands in a joyous, hourslong party. Srettha, the premier, has said after he took office in August that he supported Thailand’s bid to be a host of World Pride in 2028.

But once the crowds disappeared and the music stopped, the reality of being LGBTQ+ in Thailand may be less rosy than it might look.

“I think what foreigners see isn’t the reality," said Nattipong Boonpuang, a 32-year-old fortune-teller and model. “People aren’t actually as open to gender diversity as they may think,” he said, adding they sometimes receive negative comments in both real life and online.

Nattipong is also a member of the Bangkok Gay Men’s Chorus which was founded about a year ago.

What bound the chorus together, beyond their love of music, was a mission to advocate for more acceptance of LGBTQ+ people in Thailand, according to the chorus leader Vitaya Saeng-Aroon.

Vitaya said attitudes toward the LGBTQ+ community in Thailand have definitely improved in recent years, but there was still a long way to go for misconceptions and legal discrimination remained.

“We don’t want privileges. People misunderstand that we are calling for special treatment. Our community just wants fair treatment, on a daily basis,” he said.

Thailand has struggled to pass a marriage equality law.

Last year, members of Parliament debated several legal amendments to allow either marriage equality or civil unions, which did not give LGBTQ+ couples all of the same rights as heterosexual couples. None of the proposed bills passed before Parliament was dissolved for election.

However, this year, Vitaya said things look more promising with the new draft bill being “very progressive.” He hoped it would be approved so the rights of the LGBTQ+ community be finally recognized by law.

In May’s general election, marriage equality was a hot topic for both the ruling party Pheu Thai and the opposition's Move Forward.

The latest bill appeared to have general support. But it still needs to be debated several times in Parliament before approval. Once passed, the country's King Maha Vajiralongkorn would endorse it to become a law.

The government said the next step may be an amendment to the pension fund law to recognize all couples.

The change might mean a lot to those affected, but it would barely shake Thai society, according to one analyst. Attitudes toward marriage have changed, said Khemthong Tonsakulrungruang, a law lecturer at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, and the law was simply catching up.

“There’s already cultural marriage — it’s not legal — but there’s cultural ceremonies, religious ceremonies between LGBTs,” he said. “It makes headlines sometimes, but it’s become more and more common for two persons, regardless of gender, to get married. So, it would reflect the change that has already been here ... for years.”


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