Thailand has held the first of a series of public hearings as it works on introducing a bill to legalize civil unions for same-sex couples, and over 200 people showed up in support of the legislation.
The hearings, the first of which was in Bangkok on February 8, are meant to determine public opinion on gay rights; three more are scheduled to take place. The Thai government began considering the legalization of same-sex unions last year, after a gay couple filed a complaint when they were denied a marriage certificate; a specially appointed committee made up of lawmakers and gay rights activists started drafting legislation several months ago.
Under the current Civil and Commercial Code, families headed by gay couples have no legal recognition, leaving them without many basic rights other couples take for granted such as the ability to pay taxes jointly, medical coverage, and power over health care decisions.
In Thailand, all same-gender sexual activity is legal; it’s one of Asia’s most tolerant countries regarding homosexuality, but gay families and households are not currently afforded the same legal protections that heterosexual couples are granted. Statistics show that the number of same-sex couples in Thailand is growing, and many plan on having children.
Civil unions as proposed by the bill would grant same-sex couples the same marriage rights as heterosexuals, although actual marriage would still be only for opposite-sex couples. Opinions gathered from the hearings will be considered in regards to the bill, but getting it passed will still be difficult in Thailand’s traditional culture.
If the proposed legislation passes into law, the legal recognition of same-sex couples will be a first for not only Thailand, but for all of Asia; Vietnam and Taiwan are considering similar bills, but have no imminent plans to enact legislation.
If the bill fails to pass, supporters of LGBT rights plan on collecting the signatures of 10,000 eligible voters and 10 members of Parliament.