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Thailand may be first Asian Country to allow same-sex civil partnerships

10 Jul 2020

On Wednesday, Thailand's Cabinet endorsed a proposed bill that would officially recognise same-sex civil unions and grant greater benefits to same-sex spouses, a possible first for any Southeast Asian country if signed into legislation.
If approved by parliament, it will only render Thailand second in Asia to require same-sex partnerships to be licensed since Taiwan legalized same-sex marriage last year. 

Although the Civil Partnership Act will not go as far as supporting same-sex marriage, it requires same-sex partners to legally recognize their partnership, a major step in what remains a predominantly conservative country. Within the proposed legislation, same-sex spouses are allowed to adopt babies, assert ownership privileges and for the first time collectively control properties such as land. 

The deputy government spokesperson, Ratchada Thanadirek, said it was a "milestone for Thai society in promoting equality among people of all genders." 

"The Civil Union Bill is a big move forward for the Thai community in fostering fair citizenship and endorsing same-sex couples' freedom to create families and live as spouses," she said in a Facebook message. 

The bill describes people raised of the same sex as civil partners. Couples must be at least 17 years old to register, and at least one of the pairs must be a Thai citizen — meaning foreign same-sex couples can not register their partnership in Thailand. Those who are under 17 must obtain permission from their parents or legal guardian.

The law includes separation laws, too. 

Nevertheless, the legislation falls short of authorizing same-sex marriage and the suggested legislative changes will not extend all the protections and privileges provided to married people to same-sex couples. 

Some within the LGBTQ community say that the bill does not go far enough because marriage is not a civil partnership. 

"The Civil Unions Bill is not a breakthrough for gender equality in Thailand, but a barrier for everyone to get married," said Tattep Ruangpraikitseree, 23-year-old LGBTQ protester and Secretary-General of the Open Youth Radical Community Organisation. 

Tanwarin Sukkhapisit, filmmaker and first Step Forward Party (MFP) trans member of parliament, said that not included in the bill is access to spousal privileges such as tax exemptions and social security payments, and medical freedom. 

"Why not simply designate every one, both conventional and non-traditional people, as married spouses, nor should LGBT be given a separate word as a 'political partner'," Tanwarin said.

MFP is lobbying to change Thailand 's marriage legislation by modifying the words "husband and wife" to "female couple" to allow all gender roles more inclusive. 

"This is another disguising type of discrimination," Tanwarin said. "We don't want something special but we only want to act like everyone else." 

The proposed legislation also has to go to a legislative hearing which should be discussed which voted on by the House of Representatives. If it passes the bill must go through another vote in the Senate, a procedure that may take months. 

Outside, Thailand has a reputation for being welcoming to homosexual, lesbian and transgender people — particularly as compared to some of its Southeast Asian neighbours — but the truth is always different. 

There are regulations that ban discrimination but many local LGBTQ residents are claiming they experience bigotry and even abuse on a daily basis. Thailand is a patriarchal culture and is synonymous with the shame of moving beyond conventional family ideals. People who are homosexual, bisexual, transgender and queer are still restricted to jobs in the film business, or feel like they have to conceal their sexual identity at work.