Equality in Motion: Analyzing the Implications of Thailand's Same-Sex Marriage Bill


Thailand’s marriage equality bill, which would legalize and recognize same-sex unions, passed its first reading in the upper house of parliament, a major milestone that could potentially make the country the first in Southeast Asia to do so.

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Friends cheering to a wedding procession in the middle of the event to reflect support for the Marriage Equality bill at Bangkok Naruemit Pride Parade 2022

An overwhelming majority of the Senate, composed mostly of conservative members appointed by the military-backed junta from the last government, voted in favor of the Marriage Equality bill during its first reading on 2 April 2024. A total of 147 members voted in favor of the bill, with four voting against and seven abstaining.

Now, following the results of the reading, a 27-member committee will be appointed to study the bill for consideration within 60 days before it is expected to enter the Senate again on 8 July 2024 for the second and third readings. The second reading is a vote on each article of the bill. The third is a vote on the bill as a whole.

If the proposed legislation passes the forthcoming readings, then it will be up for royal endorsement by the King. The bill would then be published by the Royal Gazette, and after 120 days, the proposed legislation would become law. Should everything go accordingly, then it is expected that it would become law by August or September 2024. This timeline suggests that Thailand could become the third country in Asia, following Taiwan and Nepal, to recognize same-sex marriage.

As the upper house, the Senate cannot simply reject a bill that has been passed by the lower house or House of Representatives. However, the Senate can amend the bill or send it back to the House for further consideration. If the Senate passes the bill with amendments, the House must then vote on whether to accept the amendments. If the House does not accept the amendments, the bill will go to a joint committee of the House and Senate for further deliberation. The joint committee will then issue a report on the bill, which will be voted on by both the House and Senate.

Nevertheless, this marks another historic victory for Thailand’s LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (or sometimes questioning), intersex, asexual, and others) community, in which they are a step closer to securing equal rights for same-sex couples.

Bangkok Pride

Pushing for recognition

Last month, all of Thailand’s major political parties in the House of Representatives voted in favor of the Marriage Equality Act on 27 March 2024. Approximately 400 of the 415 lawmakers voted for the bill, with 10 voting against, two abstaining, and three opting not to vote.

What are the provisions included in the proposed legislation? For one, it would recognize marriage registrations of same-sex couples aged 18 or above. The bill will also give several of the same legal rights and responsibilities enjoyed between heterosexual married couples including tax deductions, joint property and inheritance of assets, medical consent for spouses, organizing funerals for partners, and the right to adopt children. The bill also prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in all areas of life, including employment, housing and education.

Article 23 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), ratified by Thailand, recognizes the fundamental rights to marry and establish a family. This principle is further reinforced by various international human rights bodies, such as 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. These bodies have consistently rejected the notion that a single model defines "family" under international human rights law.

Nevertheless, the marriage equality bill is a culmination of years of struggle and advocacy by LGBTQIA+ activists and allies shortly after parliament had rejected the Gender Recognition Act in February 2024 that would have allowed LGBTQIA+ individuals to have their preferred titles reflected on official documents.

Proposals, rejections and compromises: a wider impact on Southeast Asia

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin of Thailand

Thailand is a country known for its thriving and inclusive gay and transgender community despite being inherently rooted in conservative Buddhist values. The push for a marriage equality bill has been one of the main highlights that Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin’s government has advocated for since his coming into office in September of last year. In December 2023, four proposed bills to recognize same-sex marriages were submitted, one by Thavisin’s administration and three by opposition parties which were then promptly combined into one.

From as early as the 14th century, Thailand has had a complex standing with LGBTQIA+ individuals. It is a top tourist destination where LGBTQIA+ people are generally accepted and can live in the country safely. Additionally, gender-affirming healthcare is available. Yet, despite Thailand actively promoting itself as a LGBTQIA+ friendly nation, gay and transgender individuals have fought for the same rights heterosexual couples enjoy. In 2015, laws were implemented to protect LGBTQIA+ individuals from gender-based discrimination under the Gender Equality Act 2015, which prohibits discrimination based on appearance different from one's sex assigned at birth.

The fight for marriage equality has been an arduous journey. In recent years, attempts to formalize marriage rights continued to stall. In 2021, Thailand’s Constitutional Court ruled that marriage is exclusively between a man and a woman, reasoning that its objection to same-sex marriages is ideological and reflects its culturally conservative roots. They stated that because marriage is only for reproduction, LGBTQIA+ relationships were treated differently because they were deemed a “different species.”

“The purpose of a marriage is to allow a man and woman to live together as husband and wife, so they can establish a family unit to have children, to maintain the human race according to natural order and to further allow the passing of wealth, inheritance and bonds between father, mother, sisters, brothers, aunts and uncles. But marriage between LGBTQIA+ persons cannot establish such delicate bonds or relationships,” read the ruling.

Bangkok Pride

Last year, the Thai Cabinet approved the Civil Partnerships Bill which grants legal recognition to same-sex couples, but critics say the bill does not provide full and equal rights as married heterosexual couples. The Civil Partnerships Bill was drafted during Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s administration in 2013 before progress was halted by the coup launched by the Royal Thai Army during the following year. Two revisions were made during the military regime that continuously stripped away several benefits.

A Marriage Equality Bill was also submitted in addition to the Civil Partnerships Bill. However, that bill was promptly rejected by the government. Both bills, however failed to get the green light following the dissolution of parliament ahead of the May 2023 elections.

The passage of the Marriage Equality Bill in Thailand marks a significant milestone not only for the country itself but also within the broader context of Southeast Asia. While Thailand's achievement in legalizing same-sex marriage is indeed groundbreaking within its regional context, it's essential to recognize the varying degrees of progress and challenges faced by LGBTQIA+ communities across Southeast Asian nations.

Pink Dot
Pink Dot Singapore in 2014

For example, while some countries in Southeast Asia have made strides toward LGBTQIA+ rights, including repealing Section 377A and decriminalizing gay sex in Singapore, full marriage equality remains elusive in many cases. In contrast to Thailand's progress, other nations in the region may still be grappling with legal, religio-cultural, or political barriers to recognizing same-sex marriages.

This bill serves not only as a pivotal moment for LGBTQIA+ rights in Thailand but also as a beacon of progress and hope for the broader Southeast Asia region, encouraging continued advocacy and dialogue surrounding equality and inclusivity for all individuals, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Pasavat Tanskul is a news reporter and writer for several publications including Coconuts Bangkok and Bangkok Post. He writes topics ranging from news briefs, feature stories, and lifestyle content. He holds an M.A. in International Multimedia Journalism from Newcastle University, UK.

The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of Heinrich Böll Stiftung.