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Thailand Could Be First Country in Southeast Asia to Allow Same-Sex Partnerships

A subcommittee of Thailand’s Justice Ministry is drafting a bill that would allow same-sex couples to register as “life-partners.” This anticipated legislative move comes after a rocky history: As a similar bill was being drafted in 2014, the Thai military coup interrupted deliberations.

At this point, it’s unclear what a “life-partnership” will actually mean in comparison to marriage, but many are expecting some financial and legal affordances that are available in marriages. In an article published in the Thai publication The Nation, multiple same-sex couples discuss the potential advantages this groundbreaking legislative advancement would have on their lives.

One man, Vitaya Saeng-aroon, claimed discrimination when his partner was placed in ICU.

“When my same-sex partner was in ICU earlier this year, I was not permitted to sign any document after he went into a coma,” Saeng-aroon explained. “I was not his relative, even though I had been taking care of him for over a year I had to wait for his brother from upcountry to show up. After a week in ICU, he passed away peacefully. I did not know about his death until his brother called me.”

While the exact content of the bill has yet to be announced, critics are skeptical, expressing that previous drafts of the bill placed restrictions on the legal recognition of same-sex unions. For example, previous iterations of the Civil Partnerships Bill have prohibited LGBTQ couples from adopting.

It also prevented same-sex partners from marrying until the age of 20, while the requirement is 17 years of age for heterosexual couples.

Thai society has a complex relationship with its LGBTQ citizens. The country has had queer news publications since the 1980s, and Bangkok is often heralded as the gay capital of Asia. However, Thailand’s queer and trans population often feels as if they are only appreciated on a surface level. For example, while there is a decent amount of LGBTQ characters on screen, they’re often entirely comic relief.

Thai queer rights activist Anjana Suvarnananda voiced this issue to Phunket News back in 2013.

“I think it’s true that Thai people can only accept gay and lesbian people in superficial ways, such as the way they act or dress,” Suvarnananda explained. “But when it comes to the meaningful circumstances, Thai people tend to be biased against them.’’

Compared to other countries in the region, Thailand and the neighboring Philippines are among the most accepting of queer and transgender people. Both countries allow LGBTQ people in the military and have at least some laws preventing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

If this bill passes, Thailand would be the first country in Southeast Asia to recognize same-sex relationships.

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