Thailand Becomes First Southeast Asian Country to Legalize Gay Marriage

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Thailand Becomes First Southeast Asian Country to Legalize Gay Marriage

Historic Senate Vote

On Tuesday, Thailand made history by becoming the first Southeast Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage. This landmark decision was celebrated as a significant victory for the LGBT+ community. The Senate passed the legislation with 130 votes in favor, 4 against, and 18 abstentions. The bill will now be presented to King Maha Vajiralongkorn for publication in the royal gazette, which will make it official.

“A victory for love over prejudice,” exclaimed activist Plaifah Kyoka Shodladd, who contributed to the law’s development. Although the celebrations in the Senate were muted, festivities were planned later in the day at the government palace and in central Bangkok.

A Triumph Amid Political Turmoil

Tunyawaj Kamolwongwat, a pro-democracy Move Forward Party member, hailed the vote as “a victory for the people,” bringing a rare smile amid Thailand’s political turbulence. The marriage equality bill, enjoying widespread support across the divided nation, bridges the gap between the conservative military and royalist factions and the progressive opposition supported by younger generations.

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Broad Support and LGBT+ Visibility

Thailand’s LGBT+ community is highly visible in the Buddhist kingdom, renowned for its tolerance and attracting gay tourists from more conservative neighboring countries. Following the March approval by the lower house, the Senate’s support was largely expected.

Globally, over 30 countries have legalized same-sex marriage since the Netherlands first did so in 2001. In Asia, only Taiwan and Nepal had previously legalized gay marriage.

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Implementation and Rights

The new legislation will take effect 120 days after its official publication, allowing the first same-sex marriages in Thailand by autumn. The law aims to replace gender-specific terms like “husband” and “wife” with gender-neutral terms such as “individuals” and “marriage partners.” It also extends adoption and inheritance rights to same-sex couples.

However, activists express disappointment over the law’s exclusion of recognition for transgender and non-binary individuals, who still cannot change their gender on official documents.

Adisorn Juntrasook, an expert involved in drafting the law, emphasized, “We do this for everyone. If society grants rights to everyone, it’s a society where we can all live.”

Political Context and Future Challenges

The legislative process accelerated under Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, the first civilian to hold the office since the 2014 coup. Thailand’s chronically unstable political landscape, marked by coups and mass protests, had thwarted previous legalization attempts.

Despite the Senate’s unified front, Thailand faces ongoing uncertainties due to constitutional court procedures against Srettha Thavisin and Move Forward, key political advocates for same-sex marriage. Move Forward risks dissolution, and its leaders face potential political bans for years due to their campaign promises to reform the lèse-majesté law. Human rights groups fear such sanctions would signify a setback for democracy.

The Prime Minister, a known LGBTQ+ supporter, celebrated the vote by hosting a party at his official residence, stating, “We have fought long because we believe in equal rights for all. Today is our day. We celebrate the diversity of love, not the difference. Love is beautiful, powerful.”

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In central Bangkok, gay activists expressed their joy with a drag queen show, and the cultural center’s floor was adorned with a giant rainbow flag. “As a Thai, I am super proud,” said 23-year-old Korakoch Jeumsanga. “The law benefits both heteros and homos. I got chills when it was passed.”

International visitors also shared their thoughts. “This wouldn’t happen in China,” remarked Joe Yang, a 32-year-old from Guangzhou, while Californian tourist Miles Enriquez-Morales hoped Thailand’s move would inspire other countries.

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