Thailand steps closer to recognising same-sex civil unions

Thailand’s cabinet has approved a new bill that has opened the way for the country to become the first in Asia to recognise same-sex civil partnerships. 

The bill, which would also afford same-sex couples the right to start their own families, would require approval from the Thai parliament – the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) – likely after an upcoming general election in February. 

If passed, the law would introduce a legally-recognised civil institution similar to marriage which, according to Nathporn Chatusripitak, a government spokesperson, would institute a minimum age limit of 20 and grant property, inheritance, succession and medical decision rights. 

The move has been welcomed by some within the LGBTQ community as an important step towards full marriage equality, but others argue it falls short of putting same-sex unions on the same footing as heterosexual unions. 

Wannapong Yodmuang, a human rights researcher at the Manushya Foundation told the Asia Times that the bill was not as enlightened as its backers would argue. 

“The bill is still lacking many crucial rights that need to be provided to the LGBTI community,” she said. “The center of this law basically just allows two same-sex people to have a partnership that allows them to manage property together… But the thing is that it’s still lacking many different rights.”

Previously, Taiwan had been the frontrunner to legalise same-sex partnerships after its constitutional court ruled in May 2017 that the civil code, which stipulates an agreement to marry can only be made between a man and a woman, “violated” constitutional guarantees of freedom of marriage. 

The court gave Taiwan’s parliament two years to change the law and implement the ruling. However, any bills to do so were put on the backburner ahead of November 2018 local elections, and a referendum last month rejected legalising same-sex unions, throwing the proposal into further disarray. 

Compared to regional neighbours, Malaysia and Indonesia, where the LGBTQ community still faces heavy discrimination or even harassment, Taiwanese and Thai society remains relatively open-minded. 

Thailand has become a global gender change destination, while Taiwan hosts Asia’s largest annual gay pride parade.

However, a report by the World Bank earlier this year on the “economic inclusion of LGBT groups in Thailand” revealed that there are still high levels of discrimination, especially in jobs and housing.