Bipartisan push for same-sex civil partnerships in Thailand
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Bipartisan push for same-sex civil partnerships in Thailand

The Bangkok Post:

The House committee chaired by Pol Gen Viroon Phuensaen, a Pheu Thai Party-list MP, started drafting the bill a year ago after receiving a complaint from a gay male couple. The couple said they had been denied a marriage certificate.

The bill would give same-sex couples the same marriage rights as other couples, said Setthawut Rugsujitrat, a participant at the public hearing.

….

Pol Gen Viroon said marriage was still reserved for a man and a woman only.

Section 1448 of the Civil and Commercial Code says marriage can only take place between a man and a woman who are each at least 17 years old, and Section 1458 requires the consent of a man and a woman to take each other as husband and wife.

Pol Gen Viroon said the code would not be amended. Same-sex couples would be able to legally register their relationships under so-called civil partnerships if and when the draft bill becomes law.

The Nation last month:

“We will put forward the same-sex civil-union bill in Parliament,” Naras Savestanan, director general of the Rights and Liberties Protection Department, announced yesterday with the chair of the House committee on justice and human rights, Viroon Phuensaen, by his side.

BP: Viroon is from Puea Thai; the deputy chairman of the committee is a Democrat, Wiratana Kalayasiri.

Reuters:

A civil partnership law in the works aims to give lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) couples the same rights as heterosexuals. One lawmaker sees it passing by next year.

Same-sex unions are not currently recognised under Thai law, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman. That stops gay couples applying for joint bank loans or medical insurance.

Wiratana Kalayasiri, an opposition lawmaker pushing the civil union bill, said getting it on the agenda was tough as most members of parliament have conservative views on the issue.

“At first they bad-mouthed me and wondered if I would be struck by lightning for backing this,” he said.

But many now see the merits of appealing to LGBT voters, he said, predicting the bill would pass in “less than a year”.

WSJ has some details on the bill:

The bill in the predominantly Buddhist country would extend such benefits as insurance, pension, tax reduction and inheritance to registered same-sex couples, without making any change the existing law on marriage. However, it wouldn’t automatically allow them to adopt or have custody of children as a couple. One partner can file for an adoption individually, and those matters are handled separately under Thai law.

No group has yet to voice its opposition to the bill, but some Thais find the bill unnecessary because they contend Thai society is already tolerant.

Not everyone is happy with some viewing the bill does not go far enough. DW with some details:

Linjongrat says three proposals were considered; the first would see a brand new civil partnership law for LGBT individuals, the second ensures a new partnership law for all couples and the third would amend the current marriage and family clause under the civil code.

His organization supports the second but says the bill set to go before parliament follows the first.

Real equality?

“This draft feels like another form of discrimination and separation. Under current laws, you can marry at age 17. But under the proposed civil partnership law, it would be 20 for same-sex couples,” he told DW.

Prachatai article:

Although the committee’s attempt to pass the bill should be praised, flaws in the draft have been widely recognized by lawyers and activists.

Chanon Amornthatri, a Thai lawyer from the University of Cambridge said, “The draft leaves many loopholes since Thai family law is focused only on male-female couples. Also, the draft is very concise yet not concrete. Any marriage rights that are not specified in the draft might not be recognized for same-sex couples”.

Chanon further noted, “When I started reading the draft, I expected to see a provision that equalizes the status of same-sex and married couples under any other laws, but I was surprised not to find one”.

Even if the bill is passed, it will not guarantee identical rights for same-sex couples as for legally married couples”, Chanon explained.

The LGBT activist network is on the move. They have planned to come up with a people-sponsored draft and will submit it to Parliament.

The people’s draft will ensure that civil partners have access to the same rights and benefits as married couples, including adoption rights. It will allow couples to register for civil partnership regardless of gender, and provide the same minimum age as required by the marriage law.

Chantalak Raksayoo, a founder of the Sapaan Group said, “The network of sexual diversity is now at work. Our draft is in progress. We will begin our activities next month by holding seminars in various places”.

Many from the LGBT community support the committee’s bill since it covers a number of marriage benefits, and can be amended later.

Others though are wanting to be more pragmatic. Prachatai quoting Danai Linjongrat, Director of the Rainbow Sky Association of Thailand:

“I can’t say how many years it will take to achieve the final goal. Calm down and don’t be in a hurry,” said Danai. He said that a movement to legalize same-sex marriage started just three or four years ago in Thailand. “It’s been not long, compared to the US. They have been working on it for a long time.”

…“People tend to say our government still remains the same compared to other countries. However the Thai government is progressing too. It’s just because we in Thailand have our own way to the goal.”

However since the draft does not give exactly the same rights as the current law gives to heterosexual couples, there is a difference of opinion between people who support the bill and those who don’t.

Danai explained that one side wants to change all articles of the Thai Civil and Commercial Code referring to family law to reflect the diversity in society, and others suggest a completely new law, the Civil Partnership Act, that people of all genders can use.

“We activists should carefully consider settling this issue,” said Danai. “I personally prefer to modify the Thai Civil and Commercial Code, but the new form must be in the interest of all the public.”

BP:  Some comments.

1. The bipartisan nature of support for the bill is interesting,  but unlike in many other countries there is very little public debate on the bill in Thailand. There is little vocal opposition to the bill, but there is also very little vocal support for the bill.  In fact, many people would be completely unaware there is a civil partnership bill.

2. A number of countries including the Netherlands, Denmark, and New Zealand have had a similar civil partnership law first before later – once it was seen that civil partnerships didn’t cause the world to end and allow some to get used to the idea – having same-sex marriage so for some they may view the current bill in Thailand as not enough it could also be viewed as a first step.