Thai civil union would give gay couples legal standing, but not allow adoption

Thomson Reuters Foundation, BANGKOK

Sat, Feb 09, 2019 - Page 3

Luke Cassady-Dorion believed that marriage was for “boring” straight people until he met the man he wanted to spend the rest of his life with — Tae. However, Thailand, where they live, does not permit same-sex marriage, so the couple wed in New York.

With Thailand set to pass a landmark law that would make it the first country in Asia to legally recognize same-sex couples as civil partners, they are hopeful that the largely conservative Buddhist society is on the path to recognizing their love.

“The LGBT community in Thailand has been campaigning for equal rights for a long time, and this bill is a good and important first step,” said Cassady-Dorion, a yoga instructor who cofounded a YouTube channel with Tae, whose full name is Thapanont Phithakrattanayothin.

“When you normalize same-sex relations, it helps gay people to come out and live more freely, knowing that the government recognizes your rights,” Cassady-Dorion said.

Thailand has built a reputation as a place with a relaxed attitude toward gender and sexual diversity since homosexuality was decriminalized in 1956, and authorities actively promote the country as an LGBT-friendly destination.

Yet LGBT people face discrimination and stigma in schools, the workplace and health facilities, and are often rejected by their families, campaigners said.

Across Asia, conservative values and deep-rooted biases have hamstrung progress on gay rights. Taiwanese voters in a referendum on Nov. 24 last year rejected legalizing same-sex unions by amending the marriage law.

While India’s top court last year scrapped a colonial-era ban on gay sex, Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei outlaw sexual relations between men, and Indonesia has seen an increase in raids targeting LGBT people.

Thailand’s civil partnership bill, which was approved by the Thai Cabinet on Dec. 25, is therefore an outlier in the region, giving same-sex couples the right to register their unions, make joint medical decisions, and own and inherit property.

“LGBT people in Thailand have been waiting for this for a very long time,” Bangkok Rainbow Organization director Vitaya Saeng-Aroon said.

“There are couples who have been together for 15 years, 20 years, with no recognition or legal protection,” he told reporters. “They can finally breathe more easily.”

However, many gay people said that the bill it does not go far enough, as it does not recognize marriage between same-sex partners, or give them the right to adopt or have children as a couple.

“We want to be a family with all the rights and privileges that any family has, but this bill does not give us that,” said Areeya, a transgender woman who declined to give her full name for fear of criticism.

Areeya, who is Thai, and her partner Lee, who is American, have been together for 16 years and they have each adopted a child as single persons.

“Marriage equality is what would be really meaningful, but we don’t know when — or even if — that will happen. We don’t feel particularly compelled to register our union without any real benefits,” she said.

Campaigners also fear that they will lose public support to push for full rights once the civil partnership bill is passed.

“People may say: ‘You’ve got this, what more do you want?’” marriage equality campaigner Wannapong Yodmuang said.

“We have campaigned for so long for equal rights, but this bill will mean we are still treated differently and given fewer rights. We are worried that people will stop fighting, and that we will lose momentum,” she said.

The bill is “unlikely” to be passed before elections scheduled for March 24 and will await the new government, said Nareeluc Pairchaiyapoom, a senior official at the Thai Ministry of Justice.

Government officials have said that granting marriage equality would take longer, as it requires changing people’s attitudes and amending the Thai Civil Code, which deals with the rights of private persons, including family law and inheritance law.

However, two-thirds of Thais have no objection to same-sex unions, a survey by the UN Development Program found.