Thailand passes bill to legalise same-sex marriage

Thailand’s lawmakers passed legislation on Wednesday to recognise same-sex marriage, making it the first Southeast Asian nation to guarantee marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples.

The 500-member House of Representatives voted to pass the so-called “marriage equality” bill, technically an amendment to the Civil and Commercial Code, in a final reading on Wednesday. As many as 400 lawmakers backed the legislation, while 10 opposed it and five members either abstained or didn’t vote after a nearly four-hour debate.

The bill will now need to be approved by the upper-house Senate and endorsed by King Maha Vajiralongkorn. Then it will be published in the Royal Gazette and take effect 120 days later. The process is expected to complete well before the end of the year.
A Thai drag queen poses for a photograph in front of a banner campaigning for gender equality law during a Bangkok Pride 2024 press conference in Bangkok last month. Photo: EPA-EFE
When the changes come into force, Thailand will recognise marriage registrations of same-sex partners aged 18 and above, along with their rights to inheritance, tax allowances and child adoption, among others. Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin’s administration has made it a signature issue, and advocates say it would also burnish Thailand’s reputation as an LGBTQ-friendly tourist destination.

The landmark legislation seeks to formally change the composition of a marriage from “a man and a woman” to “two individuals,” and change the official legal status from “husband and wife” to “married couple.”

Thailand will become the third place in Asia to recognise same-sex marriage, after Taiwan and Nepal, and rank among some 40 countries around the world to guarantee equal marital rights.

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Thai laws have protected LGBTQ people from most kinds of discrimination since 2015, but attempts to formalise marriage rights had stalled. In 2021, the Constitutional Court upheld the law recognising marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman. Last year, a bill to recognise same-sex civil partnerships failed to clear parliament ahead of elections.

Srettha’s government has also promised to work on a bill to recognise gender identity, and the health ministry has also proposed legalising commercial surrogacy to allow LGBTQ couples to adopt children. Thailand is seeking to host the WorldPride events in Bangkok in 2028.

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Thai pride parade celebrates diversity and calls for equal marriage and gender identities

Thai pride parade celebrates diversity and calls for equal marriage and gender identities

Legalising same-sex marriage could have positive effects on tourism, which contributes about 12 per cent to the nation’s US$500 billion economy. In 2019, before the pandemic froze international tourism, LGBTQ travel and tourism to Thailand generated about US$6.5 billion, or 1.2 per cent of gross domestic product, according to industry consultant LGBT Capital.

Formal recognition could boost the reputation of a place already considered one of Asia’s best for LGBTQ visitors, said Wittaya Luangsasipong, managing director of Siam Pride, an LGBTQ-friendly travel agency in Bangkok.

“It will become a selling point for Thailand and raise our strength in the global stage,” Wittaya said. “It will create a relaxed and safe atmosphere for tourism and help attract more and more LGBTQ visitors. We could also see more weddings by LGBTQ couples, which could generate income across industries and local communities.”

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