Marriage or partnership? The four-way fight for LGBT couples’ rights in Thailand
Thailand moved a step closer to legal recognition of same-sex couples on June 15, as four draft laws on LGBTQ couples’ rights sailed through the first reading in Parliament.
Approved in principle by the House of Representatives were the Move Forward Party’s Equal Marriage Bill, two life-partner bills proposed by the Cabinet and the Democrat Party, and a draft law on amending the Civil and Commercial Code to cover LGBTQ couples.
Approval of the Equal Marriage Bill came as a surprise, given that the government whip had vowed to reject it. Several government figures openly described the bill as unnecessary, insisting that the government-backed draft laws were sufficient to protect LGBTQ couples’ rights.
However, their opposition sparked a public outcry, with many Thais venting frustration at the government’s move on social media. For example, there were more than 1.34 million tweets tagged #EqualMarriageBill ahead of Wednesday’s vote in Parliament.
Differences in the detail
Proposed by the Move Forward Party, the Equal Marriage Bill at first glance seems similar to the other draft laws – including the Cabinet-approved Life Partner Bill. However, experts point to significant differences between the two.
The Life Partner Bill seeks to give “life-partner status” to LGBTQ couples. If passed into law, it will authorize life partners to adopt children together. LGBTQ people will also have to be financially responsible for their registered life partners. If their partner falls ill, they will be able to sign papers authorizing medical treatment. If their life partner dies, they will have to hold the funeral but at the same time, they will be able to claim inheritance as legal heirs.
Under the current version of the bill, the minimum age to register a life partnership is 17. However, younger people may do so if they get consent from their parents or a court.
While the Life Partner Bill would undoubtedly enhance the rights of LGBTQ people, it was certainly not the best option in the eyes of participants at Bangkok’s Pride Parade earlier this month.
To same-sex couples, the Equal Marriage Bill is better because it gives them legal equality with man-woman married couples. The rights and responsibilities handed to husband and wife would be extended to same-sex couples if the Equal Marriage Bill is approved by Parliament.
In detail, the Equal Marriage Bill allows engagement, surrogacy, and family rights associated with the social security scheme, civil-servant benefits, and tax-deduction privileges for LGBTQ couples. If a Thai LGBTQ person ties the knot with a foreigner, this bill would also allow the Thai to request Thai nationality for his/her partner. The Life Partners Bill does not allow this.
Marriage under current law
Under the current law, Thais register their marriages under the Civil and Commercial Code. Section 1448 of Chapter 2 (“Conditions of Marriage”), which stipulates that, “A marriage can be made only when the man and woman have completed their seventeenth year of age. But in case of having appropriate reason, the Court may give the leave to them being married before reaching such age.”
The mention of “man and woman” in this clause effectively bars LGBTQ Thais from getting legally married in their homeland. Some have flown overseas to countries such as Germany to legally bind themselves to the love of their life.
While many couples insist love means much more than just a marriage-registration certification, relationships can get complicated in the absence of “legal-spouse status”. For example, if one partner is injured in an accident, the other has no right to sign papers authorizing surgery. And if their soulmate dies, they will get no share in the inheritance unless there is a will that names them as beneficiaries. No inheritance will go to the surviving partner even if the couple had earlier built up a fortune together.
By Thai PBS World’s General Desk