Thai Senate adoption clinches passage of historic bill legalizing same-sex unions

The bill, approved by the House in March, goes to the king for his signature.
Nontarat Phaicharoen and Harry Pearl
Bangkok and Melbourne
Thai Senate adoption clinches passage of historic bill legalizing same-sex unions Members of the LGBTQ+ community hold flags that read “Marriage equality, love wins,” as they celebrate the passing of the marriage equality bill in its second and third readings by the Senate, in Bangkok, June 18, 2024.
Chalinee Thirasupa/Reuters

People rejoiced in the streets of Bangkok and other cities on Tuesday after the Senate passed a bill that puts Thailand on the cusp of becoming the first Southeast Asian nation to legalize same-sex marriage. 

With the two houses of the Thai legislature having now adopted legislation that provides equal marriage rights to LGBTQ people, the bill will become law within 120 days after the king signs it and it is published in the Royal Gazette.

The legislation is expected to unlock previously denied legal rights for Thai same-sex and non-traditional couples, such as adoption or the ability to make health care decisions for their partners’ behalf, human rights activists said. 

The scene outside Government House in Bangkok was filled with rainbow colors of the Pride flag as gay people and others gathered to celebrate this landmark moment for Thailand’s LGBTQ community.     

“As an LGBTQ person who is in love and wants to marry another woman, we have long hoped that we would have equal rights and dignity, just like the heterosexual couples who can marry and start families,” Ann “Waaddao” Chumaporn, an LGBTQ organizer and community spokesperson, said during Tuesday’s Senate deliberations on the Marriage Equality Bill.   


Together three decades, Thai same-sex couple hopes for legal recognition

The clear majority of senators attending the session voted in favor of its passage. About 100 of the 250-member Senate were not present.

“Out of 152 voters, 130 approved, four disapproved, 18 abstained and there were no invalid votes. It is hereby resolved that the meeting approves this bill,” said Gov. Singsuk Singprai, the first vice president of the Senate, who chaired Tuesday’s session.

The bill proposes replacing terms such as “husband” and “wife” with “spouse” in Section 1448 of Thailand’s Civil and Commercial Code. 

“We hope that changes in Thailand will ignite a spark for other countries in Asia. Although this law is not 100% perfect, from an international human rights organization’s perspective, it makes Thai law more aligned with international standards,” Mookdapa Yangyuenpradorn, a Southeast Asian human rights associate at Fortify Rights, told BenarNews.

“[T]he issue of the minimum age for marriage also aligns with the Convention on the Rights of the Child.”

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Members of the LGBTQ+ community celebrate after Thailand’s Senate passed a marriage quality bill to legalize same-sex unions, outside Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, June 18, 2024. [Patipat Janthong/Reuters]

Isa Gharti, a public policy researcher at Chiang Mai University, said the vote demonstrates progress in accepting sexual diversity.

“This shows the societal advancement in Thailand in terms of accepting sexual diversity and safeguarding the rights of the LGBTQ community to equality both legally and in human dignity. This is a positive sign that will make Thai society more open, although there are still some voices of opposition,” Isa told BenarNews.

“Going forward, Thailand must also address deeply entrenched gender discrimination and biases in education, employment, and public health. It’s essential to educate the public to foster understanding and reduce stigmatization of sexual diversity.”

‘Beautiful and powerful’

In Thailand, a Buddhist-majority politically conservative country, legislation around same-sex marriage has been more than two decades in the making. 

An earlier marriage equality bill, introduced by opposition lawmakers from the progressive Move Forward Party, reached its second reading in November 2022, but didn’t move beyond that because of a series of legislative delays. It died when Parliament dissolved in March 2023 ahead of the general election two months later. 

This year, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved the current bill, with 400 of 415 lawmakers present endorsing it at its final reading in March.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, who is a backer of marriage equality, has said his government was working toward Bangkok hosting World Pride 2028.

“We have fought a long time because we believe in all equal rights,” Srettha wrote on his X account after the vote.

“Today is our day. We celebrate to ‘diverse’ love, not ‘different’ [love]. Love is beautiful and powerful.’

The movement for legal recognition of same-sex marriage began during the Thaksin Shinawatra government in 2001. At the time, the Ministry of Interior proposed amendments to the marriage law, but dropped them because of public opposition. A military coup forced Thaksin from the prime minister’s office in 2006.

In 2012, the government of Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, introduced the Civil Partnership Bill for consideration. While this bill did not grant full marriage rights to same-sex couples, its progress was halted by another military coup in 2014 that drove her from the same office.

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Supporters of LGBTQ+ rights march toward Government House in Bangkok as they celebrate the Senate’s approval of a same-sex marriage bill, June 18, 2024. [James Wilson-Thai News Pix/BenarNews]

The Move Forward Party proposed the Marriage Equality Bill in the lower House in 2022. Simultaneously, the administration of then-Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha submitted the Civil Partnership Bill for consideration. 

While the two bills shared similarities, the Civil Partnership Bill would have established a “life partnership” status for same-sex couples, granting them fewer legal rights than “marriage.” The House term ended before either bill could be passed.

After Tuesday’s Senate vote, Plaifah Kyoka Shodladd, an 18-year-old who identifies as non-binary, took the floor and thanked everyone who supported the legislation, calling it a “force of hope” that will help Thailand become more accepting of diversity, the Associated Press reported.

“Today, love trumps prejudice,” Plaifah said.


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