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Equal marriage rights

Nik Martin, Bangkok
August 26, 2013

While sex between men is still illegal among most of its neighboring countries, Thailand - the region's most gay-friendly country - could be about to allow same-sex marriage.

Same-sex couple plastic figurines are displayed during a gay wedding fair (salon du mariage gay) in Paris April 27, 2013, four days after the French parliament approved a law allowing same-sex couples to marry and adopt children. (Photo: REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes)
Image: Reuters

Decriminalized in 1956 - before Britain and the US - there has long been a great deal of tolerance towards homosexuality in Thailand.

Over the past twenty years, even larger changes in attitudes have been observed, including the lifting of a military ban on gays and homosexuality no longer being seen as a mental illness.

The popularity of Thai "lady-boys" in the entertainment industry has also contributed to a wider acceptance of alternative lifestyles.

But still most Thais are conservative at heart and proposals to allow same-sex marriage are the ultimate test of their tolerance.

Last year MPs and several LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) groups sought to draft a law that if passed, would make Thailand the first Asian country to allow gay marriage. To make it to a parliamentary reading, it either needs the support of 20 MPs or a petition of 10,000 public signatures.

Rachel Briscoe, left, and Jess Ivess, second left, celebrate their marriage as does and Richard Andrew, second right, and Richard Rawstorn after their respective same-sex wedding ceremony held at Rotorua, New Zealand, Monday, Aug. 19, 2013. Monday marked the first day that same-sex couples could marry in New Zealand after politicians changed the law back in April. (Photo: AP Photo/New Zealand Herald, Alan Gibson)
New Zealand most recently legalized same-sex marriageImage: picture-alliance/AP

"Right now we have about 4,000 signatures," said Democrat MP for Songkhla province Wiratana Kalayasiri, who heads a committee steering the draft bill. "Same-sex people need the same rights as straight people and I support them."

Generation gap

Kalayasiri believes that public opinion is split between the generations.

"Those who are against the bill tend to be over 45. Most young people support it. That's why public participation is essential for it to be successful," he told DW.

The trouble is most Thai MPs are over 45 and initially responded angrily to the proposed law. Kalayasiri thinks most of them are now more supportive. He told Reuters he believed the bill would be passed within a year.

But a recent government survey found that only 40 percent of Thais support gay marriage. Within the LGBT community, there is disagreement about whether the draft law goes far enough.

"It has been rushed somewhat," said Danai Linjongrat, Director of the Rainbow Sky Association of Thailand. "There have only been four or five public hearings across the country."

Linjongrat says three proposals were considered; the first would see a brand new civil partnership law for LGBT individuals, the second ensures a new partnership law for all couples and the third would amend the current marriage and family clause under the civil code.

His organization supports the second but says the bill set to go before parliament follows the first.

Real equality?

"This draft feels like another form of discrimination and separation. Under current laws, you can marry at age 17. But under the proposed civil partnership law, it would be 20 for same-sex couples," he told DW.

Two men walk with a little boy on the beach (Photo: Wolfram Steinberg)
Equal rights for same-sex couples has been debated throughout the worldImage: picture alliance / Wolfram Steinberg

The bill would also force transgenders to register their birth gender on their marriage certificate, preventing them from changing official documentation later, said Linjongrat.

LGBT groups want more gender neutral language to be used.

"The ideal partnership law should ensure equal rights of both partners, regardless of gender identity and allow equal rights relating to adoption and divorce."

Another prominent activist Anjana Suvarnananda recently told journalists if changing the law meant altering Thailand's civil code - "the Bible" as she described it - there would be a bigger uphill battle.

Groups behind the proposed bill have studied examples from other countries where the passing of same-sex marriage laws have hit the headlines over the past few months.

After seven years of deep political conflict in Thailand which polarized the country, some activists think the draft law could benefit from a feeling that the political class needs to show more unity.

"It could be a symbol of reconciliation, showing MPs in a good light that they can work together for the good of the country," said LGBT activist Linjongrat.

"It would also help improve Thailand's human rights record which would be seen positively by the international community."

Is same-sex marriage legal in your country? Should same-sex couples have equal rights?