Will Thailand become the first SE Asian country to have same sex marriage?

Liberalisation of cannabis laws (although we’re not sure of the final details at this stage), decriminalisation of Kratom, Pride marches held all over Thailand this year, and protesters daring to mention changes to the constitution, including the “K” word… what’s next for the country ruled by a conservative military-linked government?

It could be full legal recognition of same-sex relationships. Or even same-sex marriage, a full overhaul of the Thai Marriage Act.

Thailand appears ready to be the first southeast Asian nation to recognise same-sex partnerships, in the form of civil unions, maybe even full marriage equality. Proposals for both have been presented to the Thai parliament and passed their first reading.

It is almost certain that one, or the other, will become law in Thailand by the end of this year, despite needing the support of conservative parties.

Apart from the June 9 decriminalisation of cannabis (the sky hasn’t fallen in yet), the month of June was also host to Pride marches and events right around the country. Many corporate businesses changed their logos to versions of the rainbow flag and many politicians said all the right things about the ‘changes’ necessary in Thailand for the southeast Asian country to become more inclusive and lead the way in the region.

Despite its reputation for a relaxed approach to sexual matters, Thailand is deeply conservative when it comes to many social mores, including sexuality – as long as it was confined to the limited sois of Patpong, Pattaya, and Patong.

But there has been a quantum shift over the past few decades and, now, there are plenty of LGBT characters on just about every TV soap opera, many film themes, and openly gay celebrities, normalising the issues. The kathoey (ladyboys) are a fixture around Thailand’s red-light districts, popular culture and will be seen in workplaces and shops around the country – Thais barely bat an eyelid anymore.

Now the Thai parliament is poised to pass legislation into law that will recognise civil partnerships between same-sex individuals, often seen as the first step towards full changes to marriage acts in countries around the world. A proposal has also been presented to the Thai parliament to just jump to the ultimate step without transitioning the country through the ‘civil union’ step.

Activists explain that some homosexual or heterosexual couples may simply want civil unions, while others may want full marriage, and they believe the two options should be available to everybody.

The themes in many of this year’s Pride Marches, the first for some cities and towns in more than a decade, proudly and loudly proclaimed the rights of Thailand’s LGBT community to have full and equal rights, in law.

The next stages of the legislation will occur over the next few months and are currently in the phase of ‘community consultation.’ There is a general election to be held either later this year or before March 2023.

The conservative coalition, lagging in all the latest polls, will be keen to appear progressive, inclusive, and relevant when the election comes around, and are keen to portray itself as the party for all Thais, even the LGBT ones.

Taiwan became the first country in Asia to legalise same-sex marriage nationwide on May 24, 2019. Will Thailand be the first country in southeast Asia to take the same step?

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Tim Newton

Tim joined The Thaiger as one of its first employees in 2018 as an English news writer/editor and then began to present The Thaiger's Daily news show in 2020, Thailand News Today (or TNT for short). He has lived in Thailand since 2011, having relocated from Australia.