Southeast and East Asia
Thailand plans to recognize Same-Sex Unions

Same sex union

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While parts of Southeast Asia have vibrant LGBTQ communities, offering sanctuary to many, the absence of legal recognition for same-sex couples is a disparity. In 2024, hopes are high for a breakthrough as Thailand contemplates the passage of a same-sex marriage bill.

Despite the lack of legally recognized same-sex marriage laws, members of the LGBTQ communities embraced marriage ceremonies on Valentine’s Day. In the Philippines, Quezon City hosted its annual commitment ceremony for queer couples whilst in Thailand, dozens of same-sex couples participated in mock matrimony ceremonies. City authorities organized these ceremonies for LGBTQ couples in all of Bangkok's 50 districts as a gesture of support. These events, especially in Thailand, symbolize a prelude to potential official unions later this year pending changes in the law.

Thailand is moving closer to becoming the first Southeast Asian nation to formally recognize same-sex unions. In 2023, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin announced that his Cabinet had approved a draft same-sex marriage law, which Parliament began to debate on 21 December 2023. Besides the cabinet’s version of the draft bill, three additional versions by the Move Forward Party, the Democrat Party and the civil sector were also put forward. All of them also received overwhelming support in Parliament with a vote of 360-10. Thailand is currently waiting for the House of Representatives to approve the formation of an ad-hoc committee to consider all four drafts and merge them into one, using the cabinet’s bill as the main framework. The consolidated draft bill could be passed by Parliament, then be sent to the Thai Senate and finally submitted for royal approval. For the LGBTQ+ community, the bill, if passed, would herald a new era for Thailand - one that promises greater respect, equality, and freedom to express oneself authentically.


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© Photo by Kamaji Ogino / PEXEL

Thailand`s vibrant gay community

Despite Thailand's reputation as a haven for LGBTQ individuals, with a vibrant gay and transgender community, legal recognition of same-sex couples is not yet possible under the current marriage law. The four proposed amendments seek to legalize same-sex unions by removing gender-specific language from the definition of marriage, replacing it with gender-neutral terms like "individuals." Should such an amendment indeed come to fruition, Thailand would join Nepal and Taiwan as one of the few Asian countries endorsing gay marriage.

The proposed law would grant same-sex couples the ability to adopt children and allow them to benefit from various privileges, which are, so far, reserved for married individuals. These include tax deductions, medical consent for spouses, joint property management, and inheritance rights. Additionally, marriage would grant LGBTQ+ government employees access to a range of public health benefits. The current momentum reflects shifting societal attitudes, echoing evolving norms and a growing recognition of the importance of equality and inclusion.

Equal rights Southeast and East Asian Nations

In East Asia, Taiwan´s Constitutional Court ruled in 2017 that same-sex couples are entitled to the same rights available to heterosexual married couples. Same-sex marriages took place for the first time on May 24, 2019.

In Southeast Asia, no nation currently permits same-sex marriages. However, there has been progress. In the Philippines, the House Committee on Women and Gender Equality passed a measure in 2023, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or sex characteristics (SOGIESC). In Vietnam, the government outlawed conversion therapy in 2022 and lifted a ban on same-sex relationships.

On the other hand, Indonesia and Malaysia are conservative. In Indonesia, Article 1 of the Law No. 1 states unequivocally that marriage is “a physical and spiritual bond between a man and a woman as husband and wife, having the purpose of establishing a happy and lasting family founded on the Belief in God Almighty”. A study conducted by the Pew Research Centre in Indonesia in 2023 found that 92% of Indonesians are against same-sex marriage. Indonesia recorded the largest opposition to same-sex marriage followed by Malaysia. Malaysia also has an “anti-sodomy” law, which criminalises gay sex. Section 337 of the Penal Code says that anyone who “voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman, or animal” can be jailed for 20 years and/or caned and fined.

Looking forward

While certain countries in Southeast Asia do not embrace same-sex relationships, there is, overall, a noticeable trend towards greater LGBTQ+ acceptance in the region. Thailand's potential legalization of same-sex unions offers hope for LGBTQ+ communities across Southeast Asia, signalling a shift towards more inclusive societies.

*Sky Warisala Chatuchinda is the Regional Communication Officer for the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom