Thailand becomes first Southeast Asian country to allow same-sex marriage

Rights groups hail a ‘landmark moment’ as upper houses passes the marriage equality bill.

Thailand marriage equality
Activists from the LGBTQ community celebrate after Thailand's Senate passes a marriage equality bill in Bangkok on June 18, 2024 [Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP]

Thailand’s Senate has passed the marriage equality bill, paving the way for the country to become the first in Southeast Asia to recognise same-sex marriage.

The upper house on Tuesday approved the measure in its final reading – with 130 votes in favour from the 152 members in attendance. Four senators voted against and there were 18 abstentions.

The legislation will now go to King Maha Vajiralongkorn for assent, a formality that is widely expected to be granted. It will come into force 120 days after it is published in the royal gazette.

Once the law takes effect, Thailand will become the third Asian jurisdiction after Nepal and Taiwan to legalise gay marriage.

LGBTQ advocates and human rights groups welcomed the bill’s passage.

“Thailand has taken a historic step towards becoming the first country in Southeast Asia to legalize marriage for LGBTQI couples,” Amnesty International’s Thailand researcher Chanatip Tatiyakaroonwong said in a statement. “This landmark moment is a reward for the tireless work of activists, civil society organizations and lawmakers who have fought for this victory.”

The legislation labels marriage as a partnership between two individuals and change references to “men”, “women”, “husbands” and “wives” to gender-neutral terms. It would also grant LGBTQ couples inheritance and adoption rights equal to those of people in heterosexual marriages.

While Thailand is known for its vibrant LGBTQ culture and tolerance, activists have struggled for decades against conservative attitudes.

Many have criticised laws for failing to recognise transgender and nonbinary people, who will still not be allowed to change their gender on official identity documents.

“We are very proud to make history,” said Plaifah Kyoka Shodladd, a member of a parliamentary committee on same-sex marriage.

“Today, love triumphed over prejudice … after fighting for more than 20 years. Today, we can say that this country has marriage equality.”

Politicians and activists were seen celebrating in the National Assembly, waving rainbow flags and smiling, with some raising their fists in solidarity with the LGBTQ community.

In March, the lower house approved the bill nearly unanimously with only 10 of the 415 sitting lawmakers voting against it.

The law is a “triumph for for justice and human rights,” Mookdapa Yangyuenpradorn, a human rights associate at Fortify Rights, said in a statement. “The journey to this pount has been fraught with challenges, but today’s vote marks a historic moment that deserves celebration.”

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, who has been vocal in his support for the LGBTQ community and marriage equality, will open his official residence to activists and supporters for celebrations.

In 2020, the Constitutional Court ruled that the current matrimonial law, which recognises only heterosexual couples, was constitutional. But it also recommended that the legislation be expanded to ensure minorities’ rights.

In December, the National Assembly approved the first readings of four draft bills on same-sex marriage and tasked a committee to consolidate them into a single draft.

Thai LGBT community participates in Gay Freedom Day Parade in Bangkok, Thailand November 29, 2018.
Members of the LGBTQ community participate in the Gay Freedom Day Parade in Bangkok, Thailand [File: Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters]
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies