Out in the World: Thailand legalizes same-sex marriage

  • by Heather Cassell, BAR Contributor
  • Monday June 24, 2024
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LGBTQ and ally Thai activists and politicians celebrated in front of the National Assembly after lawmakers overwhelmingly passed the Marriage Equality Act in Bangkok, Thailand on June 18, 2024. Photo: Courtesy pattayamail.com
LGBTQ and ally Thai activists and politicians celebrated in front of the National Assembly after lawmakers overwhelmingly passed the Marriage Equality Act in Bangkok, Thailand on June 18, 2024. Photo: Courtesy pattayamail.com

Thai lawmakers and LGBTQ people waved rainbow flags and raised their fists in solidarity in the National Assembly in Bangkok following a landmark vote making Thailand the third country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage.

"We are very proud to make history," Plaifah Kyoka Shodladd, a member of a parliamentary committee on same-sex marriage, told Al Jazeera after the June 18 vote. "Today, love triumphed over prejudice ... after fighting for more than 20 years. Today, we can say that this country has marriage equality."

The law, which neutralized gender terms and defined marriage as a partnership between two individuals, grants same-sex couples the same legal rights as straight couples.

Thailand's 152-member Senate voted overwhelmingly 132-4, with 18 lawmakers abstaining, as the country's Marriage Equality Act passed. In March, the country's lower house approved the bill by a lopsided vote of 415-10.

The law will now go through formalities. First, it will go to King Maha Vajiralongkorn for assent, which is expected to be granted, reported Al Jazeera. It will then be published in the royal gazette. After its publication, it will come into force in 120 days.

After a 20-year battle for marriage equality — filled with opposition, stalled legislation, failed court challenges, a military coup, parliament dissolving several times, and the formation of a new government — Thai same-sex couples will be able to marry sometime this fall.

The bill's passage also comes as Thailand makes its third bid for a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council in October, reported Asia Nikkei.

Opposing the bill, Thai Senator Worapong Sa-nganet, a retired army general, called changing gender terms in the legislation "a destruction of the family establishment in the most violent way," reported the Washington Post.

Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin disagreed. In a celebratory message on X, he wrote, "I am proud of the collective effort of all stakeholders which reiterates the power of 'unity in diversity' of the Thai society. We will continue our fight for social rights for all people regardless of their status."

Thavisin, of the Pheu Thai Party, wasn't able to attend the celebrations due to recently testing positive for COVID-19, as Gay City News reported.

Thavisin, a vocal supporter of the country's LGBTQ community and marriage equality, plans to open his official residence to same-sex marriage supporters to celebrate the historic win of marriage equality, reported Al Jazeera.


Thailand's new status makes it an outlier in Southeast Asia, where homosexuality remains criminalized in neighboring countries, such as Brunei and Myanmar (formerly Burma).

Homosexuality isn't illegal in Indonesia, except in the Aceh province. However, LGBTQ people in the country face extreme prejudice and discrimination by both police and community members.

LGBTQ people in Malaysia face up to 20 years in prison and fines if caught.

Singapore repealed its colonial-era law that criminalized homosexuality — a hangover common in many former British colonies in Asia and Africa — in 2022. However, the government has repeatedly spoken out against same-sex marriage and threatened to strengthen laws against marriage equality.

In other Asian countries, some, like China, are actively cracking down on the LGBTQ community, while activists continue to challenge the governments.

Japan remains the only G7 member that hasn't legalized same-sex marriage. However, the East Asian country is making progress toward legally recognizing same-sex couples' relationships. The Bay Area Reporter noted in March that a Japanese high court ruled the country's denial of same-sex couples to marry was unconstitutional. Some Japanese municipalities and prefectures have issued same-sex partnership certificates in recent years. The certificates provide some benefits, but they do not offer same-sex couples equal legal recognition.

Last year, India punted same-sex marriage back to the country's congress members to legislate, reported the B.A.R. at the time.

Taiwan legalized same-sex marriage in 2019. Nepal passed marriage equality in 2023. Regionally, Thailand is the first in Southeast Asia to have same-sex marriage. Worldwide, Thailand is now the 39th country to legalize same-sex marriage.

Neela Ghoshal, senior director of law, policy, and research at Outright International, called the law's passage in Thailand a "milestone for the region."

"It's great to see a country in the region going in the opposite direction," Ghoshal told the Post, referring to other countries, such as Malaysia and Indonesia. "It bucks the stereotype that equality is a Western agenda or imposition."

Leow Yangfa, executive director of Singaporean LGBTQ group Oogachaga, told Asia Nikkei the legalization of same-sex marriage in Thailand and Taiwan shows the momentum behind the movement is universal, and not a product of "Western values."

"This is all happening in Asia, at our doorstep," Leow said. "It's not about values and ideology, it's about doing what's right for the people."

Maki Muraki, a Japanese LGBTQ rights activist and representative director of the Osaka-based NPO Nijiiro Diversity, praised Thailand's lawmakers.

"I think what Thailand has done is fantastic," Muraki told Asia Nikkei. "It's given us hope and should put pressure on Japan's government to follow suit."

A change in heart and mind

Times have changed in Thailand. The progressive Move Forward Party, which came into power last year and holds most of the seats in parliament, and other major political parties mostly supported same-sex marriage, reported CNN.

A 2023 Pew Research Center survey found 60% of Thai adults supported legalizing same-sex marriage, reported the Post.

The legalization of same-sex marriage signals to the world that Thailand's laws are catching up with its global image as a welcoming and progressive country for LGBTQ people.

"The bill represents a monumental step forward for LGBTQ rights in Thailand," Panyaphon Phiphatkhunarnon, founder of Love Foundation, told CNN.

The Love Foundation is a non-governmental organization working for LGBTQ equality in Thailand.

"The potential impact of this bill is immense. It would not only change the lives of countless couples but also contribute to a more just and equitable society for all," he continued, talking about the powerful message of acceptance, inclusion, and progressive culture that will attract businesses, talent, and visitors to Thailand.

Seizing the moment

Thailand's LGBTQ and business communities are positioned to seize the opportunity.

The country is aiming to host WorldPride in 2030.

Last week, Borderless.lgbt, a Thai diversity, inclusion, and equity platform, supported by Thailand Privilege, hosted its first-ever "Pink Plus" economy summit.

The platform's goal is to capitalize on Thailand's pro-LGBTQ image and laws, and develop inclusive industries focused on medical tourism, retirement living, family planning, pink tech incubation, and pink film virtual production in the country, according to a June 9 news release from the platform.

"Thailand is positioned to support more than 200 million LGBTQIA individuals within its proximity to wed, live, play, innovate, plan a family, and retire in the country," according to the release.

According to LGBT Capital, a private company that models economic data pertaining to the community around the world, there were an estimated 3.7 million LGBTQ people in Thailand in 2022, reported ABC Australia.

"Thailand could be leading on this," Wei Siang Yu, founder and chairman of health care technology company Borderless Healthcare Group, told the outlet. The company is expanding to provide sexual health, family planning, and retirement care services to LGBTQ patients in Thailand.

Wedding bells soon to ring

Same-sex couples are already lining up to be among the first to wed as soon as the law goes into effect later this year.

Photos of Anticha Sangchai and Worawan's wedding at Bangkok's first Pride festival two years ago went viral. (Worawan was only identified by her first name.) The couple is looking forward to turning their "faux" wedding into a real ceremony and celebration soon.

"This will change my life and change many Thai people's lives, especially in the LGBT community," Sangchai told ABC Australia about the couple's special Pride wedding where they were both decked out in floor-length white gowns.

"We just want to live together and take care of each other," she added.

Others are also lining up to "put a ring on it" and for the business opportunities.

Local real estate agent Ploy Rahong and her fiancee, Ayy, will say, "I do," before their friend and local celebrant Dujruedee Thaithumnus in October, reported Asia Nikkei. (Ayy was only identified by her first name in the news outlet.)

Rahong sees an opportunity to build retirement communities for LGBTQ couples on Ko Samui, an island off the east coast of Thailand.

"We believe the LGBT community here will grow more and more, so we want to build villas for them as their holiday home or retirement home," Rahong told Asia Nikkei.

Soldiering on

The Thai LGBTQ community's march toward equality is not over. Celebrations of same-sex marriage passage were barely underway when activists turned toward the lack of transgender rights in the country. Additionally, discrimination, prejudice, and violence against the LGBTQ community remain high.

Outright International noted in the organization's June 18 release that Thailand doesn't have any legal or policy protections for transgender, gender-nonconforming, and intersex people.

The LGBTQ global group called upon Thailand to take steps to enact self-determined legal gender recognition and to protect intersex children from non-consensual, unnecessary surgeries and other harmful practices.

Thailand has long been a destination for foreigners to undergo gender-affirming surgery, but transgender Thais are still not allowed to change their gender on official identity documents.

Thai cabaret performer Jena told ABC Australia she was excited about Thailand legally catching up with its image, but she wanted the government to move forward on gender recognition laws.

"It is an act to show human equality and it is really important because, without it, we're still a minority without rights equal to men or women," said Jena, who was only identified by her first name.

"There is still gender discrimination but, if we have this law, everyone is human," she added.

Got international LGBTQ news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at WhatsApp/Signal: 415-517-7239, or [email protected]

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