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A big win for gay marriage in Southeast Asia!

Thailand’s legislative body has approved a landmark legislation acknowledging same-sex marriage, positioning the nation as a trailblazer in Southeast Asia by ensuring marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples. The bill, known as the “marriage equality” amendment to the Civil and Commercial Code, received overwhelming support in the 500-member House of Representatives during its conclusive reading on Wednesday. Following over three hours of deliberation, approximately 400 lawmakers endorsed the measure, with 10 dissenting votes and five abstentions or absences.

The legislation will proceed to the upper-house Senate for review on April 2 – where it is uncommon for legislation approved by the lower house to be rejected – before receiving endorsement from the King and publication in the Royal Gazette. The amendments are slated to take effect 120 days thereafter. Once enacted, Thailand will formalize marriage registrations for same-sex couples aged 18 and above, granting them various rights including inheritance, tax benefits, and eligibility for child adoption. Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin’s administration has prioritized this issue, with proponents arguing that it will enhance Thailand’s standing as an LGBTQ-friendly tourist destination.

Danuphorn Punnakanta, representative of the ruling Pheu Thai party and serving as the chairperson of the committee handling the marriage equality bill, emphasized in Parliament that the amendment is inclusive of all individuals in Thailand, regardless of gender. He clarified that the proposed changes would not diminish any rights of heterosexual couples. “This will not take away any rights from men and women, and will instead extend the rights to LGBTQ groups.” He added, “For this law, we would like to return rights to the (LGBTQ+ group). We are not giving them rights. These are the fundamental rights that this group of people … has lost.”

Meanwhile, Mookdapa Yangyuenpradorn, from the human rights organization Fortify Rights, described the passage of the bill as a pivotal moment for Thailand and the LGBTQ+ community. However, she highlighted that the legislators did not endorse the addition of the term “parent” alongside “father and mother” in the legislation. Activists argue that this omission could restrict the parental rights of LGBTQ+ couples.

The current Pheu Thai-led government, inaugurated last year, has prioritized achieving marriage equality as one of its primary objectives.

The groundbreaking legislation aims to redefine the structure of marriage from “a man and a woman” to “two individuals” and alter the official legal designation from “husband and wife” to “married couple.” This step surpasses previous efforts by Thai governments, which aimed to provide equal rights to same-sex couples through civil partnerships but refrained from acknowledging their marriages.

With this development, Thailand will join Taiwan and Nepal as the third Asian jurisdiction to recognize same-sex marriage, aligning with approximately 40 other countries worldwide that ensure equal marital rights.

In other parts of the region, recent endeavors have yielded mixed outcomes. Hong Kong has yet to comply with a 2023 court mandate to enact legislation acknowledging same-sex partnerships, while India’s Supreme Court declined to legalize same-sex marriage, deeming it a matter for parliamentary deliberation.

LGBTQ activists in Thailand have advocated for over a decade to secure marriage rights equivalent to those of heterosexual couples. Although Thai laws have shielded LGBTQ individuals from most forms of discrimination since 2015, efforts to formalize marriage rights had encountered obstacles.

In 2021, the Constitutional Court upheld the law defining marriage exclusively as a union between a man and a woman. Additionally, last year, a proposal to recognize same-sex civil partnerships failed to advance through parliament prior to elections.

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