Thailand is — seemingly — on the verge of a major change.
On Christmas Day, the Thai cabinet approved a couple of progressive bills. One, the legalization of medical marijuana, is now a reality and hurtling toward promulgation. The other would represent another major first for not only Thailand but the region, as no other Asian nation has yet to recognize same-sex civil unions.
After the Christmas approval, the bill was forwarded to the Council of State, which is reportedly finishing the details of the law. After that is completed, the bill would return to the Cabinet once more for another deliberation before, finally, being forwarded to Parliament to a final vote. After that, a royal decree would bring the law officially into effect.
Revisions to the “Life Partnership Bill,” originally drafted in 2013, aim to give the LGBT community a variety of rights already enjoyed by heterosexual couples, 90 percent to be exact, according to Ministry of Justice’s Rights and Liberties Protection Department (RLPD).
Last Thursday, OUT BKK, an NGO focused on addressing the needs of the Thai LGBT+ community, hosted an event in which RLPD director Nareeluc Pairchayapoom detailed specifics of the latest Civil Partnership bill, which is on its third revision since the first draft was crafted in 2014.
Here is what we know so far:
What is a civil partnership?
A civil partnership is a legally recognized relationship between two people of the same sex that has many of the benefits — and responsibilities — of heterosexual marriage.
Key among these are the right to jointly own property, the ability to inherit from each other, management of debt as a couple and, in situations where a partner is deemed incompetent or quasi-incompetent, the right to be considered a partner’s legal guardian.
In terms of assets, estates and the Civil and Commercial code, civil partners will receive very similar rights to heterosexual couples, per the Bangkok Post.
However, civil partnerships will not be considered fully equal to marriage and therefore do not include key benefits like state welfare, personal income tax deductions, or adoption rights.
Why not marriage?
According to Nareeluc, members of the government — including her superiors at the Department of Justice — do not believe Thailand is “ready” for same-sex marriage, at least not in name. However, she said making it a reality within 4-5 year remains the ultimate goal of a number of pro-equality bureaucrats, herself included, and signaled that she was extremely hopeful about this possibility.
Nareeluc said the biggest opposition to same-sex marriage can be attributed to a mix of religious belief and long-standing social stigmas in Thailand.
Who is eligible for a civil partnership?
Registrants must be at least 20 years of age (also the legal drinking age), and at least one of the pair must be a Thai national.
How can you get out of a civil partnership?
For those already wondering about an exit strategy (we know, we know) the partnership can dissolved via death, voluntary separation (similar to a divorce), or court order, which would be closer to an annulment. Violations of the “duties” outlined by Section 2 of the bill — which includes behavioral no-nos like adultery or being in an existing marriage at the time of a civil partnership — are among the grounds for termination.
What is not included in the bill?
- Medical decisions should a partner become unable to decide themselves
- Management of the partner’s funeral
- The ability to share the same last name
- The specific right to adopt a child, surrogacy or custody of children as a couple
- Citizenship eligibility
- Spousal welfare
- Tax deductions
- Rights in partner’s social security fund
- A partner cannot file a police report or pursue legal action in their partner’s place (even if the victim sustained major injuries that disables him to file a report)
According to BBC Thailand, other Thai laws would need to be amended for many of the above to be eligible for inclusion.
Why can’t civil partners adopt a child?
According to Nareeluc, lawmakers believe that the kingdom’s current Adoption Law already allows individuals to adopt without regard to sexuality.
Under the current law, any Thai national who is over 25 — and at least 15 years older than the child they want to adopt — is eligible to apply. However, foreigners must have a “legitimate spouse” and be legally qualified to adopt in their own country, which must have good established relations with Thailand.
“The relevant ministries already think individuals who want to adopt will already be able to, so they don’t believe amending the law in this bill was necessary,” explained Nareeluc.
Will the upcoming election affect the bill?
Odds are, the bill won’t come before Parliament until after next month’s long-awaited election on March 24.
Despite this, Nareeluc said she is confident that Thailand will move forward with the law regardless of the Parliament’s post-election makeup, though possibly with changes.
“No matter what government gets elected, the bill will go on. However, the details might be different depending on policy leaders,” she said.
How do Thai citizens feel about the bill?
A poll released on Valentine’s Day indicates broad support from the Thai public.
According to the survey from YouGov, an international Internet-based market research and data analytics firm, three in five Thais, or 63 percent of netizens surveyed, support same-sex civil partnerships. Just one in 10, or 11 percent, opposed the idea outright, while the remaining 26 percent preferred not to say.
Related reading: 3 in 5 Thais support same-sex civil partnerships: survey
Those numbers could be even higher if not for heavier opposition in specific regions, Nareeluc said.
“We have over 90 percent approval rate in every region except the the south, which only had about a roughly 60 percent approval rate,” she said, pointing to the fact that many of the country’s southern provinces have strong Muslim majorities.
Want to learn more about the complex world of female love in Thailand? Check out Coconut TV’s short documentary: