After a year of anticipation, many same-sex couples in Thailand are anxiously waiting for the Civil Partnership Bill to pass.
A parliamentary committee and the Justice Ministry’s Department of Rights and Liberties Protection launched a campaign on 18 September 2013 to gather 10,000 signatures to support the bill, as required by the Thai Constitution to ensure public participation.
According to the latest survey in September by Chiang Mai University, 100% of 868 lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) respondents support civil partnership. But when the Thai government conducted a similar survey last year, 60% of respondents opposed it. These contrasting results may be due to different sampling or timing, but possibly indicate a tendency of greater resistance towards civil partnership by people more associated with the government.
The campaign was ignited in 2011 by Mr. Natee Teerarojjanapong’s attempt to register a marriage with his partner. When this was rejected by the government registrar, he filed a complaint to the National Human Rights Commission. A parliamentary committee later initiated the process of drafting the first Civil Partnership Bill.
The committee claims that the bill will guarantee to registered same-sex couples the same safeguards over inheritance, medical decision-making, insurance benefits, pensions, tax status, and other rights as married couples enjoy.
Even though Thailand has been internationally recognized a top LGBT-friendly destination in Asia, it has never had any law specifically protecting LGBT people from discrimination. This bill is the first attempt to guarantee legal recognition for same-sex couples and the LGBT community.
If the bill is passed, Thailand will be the first country in Asia to legalize civil partnerships.
Rights Guarantee Flawed
Although the committee’s attempt to pass the bill should be praised, flaws in the draft have been widely recognized by lawyers and activists.
Chanon Amornthatri, a Thai lawyer from the University of Cambridge said, “The draft leaves many loopholes since Thai family law is focused only on male-female couples. Also, the draft is very concise yet not concrete. Any marriage rights that are not specified in the draft might not be recognized for same-sex couples”.
Chanon further noted, “When I started reading the draft, I expected to see a provision that equalizes the status of same-sex and married couples under any other laws, but I was surprised not to find one”.
“Even if the bill is passed, it will not guarantee identical rights for same-sex couples as for legally married couples”, Chanon explained.
Several LGBT activists voiced concerns that if the bill is passed, it might lead to discrimination against their community. The bill is designed particularly for same-sex couples but it does not provide the same rights as married couples.
For example, the minimum age for civil partnership registration is higher than that required by the marriage law.
Another critical issue is that the draft does not cover the rights of same-sex couples to adopt a child.
As a result, the draft would constitute discrimination against same-sex couples since it does not ensure equal rights between same-sex and married couples.
The LGBT activist network is on the move. They have planned to come up with a people-sponsored draft and will submit it to Parliament.
The people’s draft will ensure that civil partners have access to the same rights and benefits as married couples, including adoption rights. It will allow couples to register for civil partnership regardless of gender, and provide the same minimum age as required by the marriage law.
Chantalak Raksayoo, a founder of the Sapaan Group said, “The network of sexual diversity is now at work. Our draft is in progress. We will begin our activities next month by holding seminars in various places”.
Many from the LGBT community support the committee’s bill since it covers a number of marriage benefits, and can be amended later.
However, the people’s draft will have a simple goal: to achieve the same rights for same-sex couples as married couples. If the committee’s bill is passed, no one can predict when its loopholes will be amended. An incomplete bill that lacks an enforceable guarantee of equal rights in practice for same-sex couples is very precarious.
The LGBT community should support the people’s draft that gives the same benefits and rights to same-sex and married couples. It should do no more and no less than that to fulfil the unfulfilled promise.
Akanit is a graduate student at the School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University, and a Fulbright fellow.