Marriage equality bill delayed, forwarded to Cabinet

The Thai parliament voted yesterday (9 February 2022) to forward the marriage equality bill, proposed by Move Forward Party (MFP), to the Cabinet for consideration, delaying the bill’s first reading.

A participant at the 28 November 2021 marriage equality rally with a sign taped to their back saying "Marriage is a human right not a heterosexual privilege."

The bill went before parliament during yesterday’s session (9 February 2022), around a year after it appeared on the parliamentary agenda. MFP MP Tunyawaj Kamolwongwat, who proposed the bill, said during the session that the right to a family is a fundamental right and is something that everyone in the society understands, but is something that has been denied to the LGBTQ community, depriving them of their rights, dignity, and welfare.

“The marriage equality law is not a demand for something which does not exist, but is a law which demands a fundamental right which was taken away from the beginning,” Tunyawaj said.

Tunyawaj said that many people may believe that LGBTQ people are already free, so he wanted to speak for LGBTQ couples so that their issues can be recorded by parliament. He said that LGBTQ couples who live together face obstacles from the law.

Puangphet Hengkham and Permsap Sae-Ung, he said, are a lesbian couple who have been living together in Mae Hong Song for the past 13 years, but they are denied the rights given to heterosexual couples, such as being able to authorize medical treatment for their partner, or to name their partner as the beneficiary for life insurance, as a marriage certificate is required for them to have these rights.

They also cannot own property or take out loans together, and even though legal loopholes exist that would allow them to do so, Tunwavaj said that this is not equality, and that many LGBTQ couples are concerned that, since they cannot register their marriage, their property would go to their closest relative upon their death. He said that many members of the LGBTQ community do not live with their family, who also play no role in what they earn during their lifetimes, so the person who inherits their property should be the person who lives with them.

Meanwhile, LGBTQ couples are denied the welfare given to heterosexual couples. Many organizations provide tuition fees and medical fees for their employees, but LGBTQ families are denied these supports, since they are not legally recognized as a family. Tunyawaj gave the example of a transwoman who works as a civil servant and was not compensated for the cost of her partner’s cancer treatment even though civil servants are entitled to such compensation.

Tunyawaj said that amending the marriage law, or Section 1448 of the Civil and Commercial Code, to allow two persons to register their marriage regardless of gender is in accordance with the Yogyakarta Principles, which state that legislation must take into account gender identity and sexuality, meaning that a law based on the gender binary affects the rights of LGBTQ people to live their lives. He said that gender today is not binary as believed in the past, and these rights are fundamental to allowing LGBTQ people to live their lives as they identify themselves, and that this is a very important time during which members of parliament can use their powers to create equality for the people.

“To call for marriage equality is not a call to have more rights than others, but the LGBTQ+ community is trying to tell those in power that they have deprived us of our right to a family,” Tunyawaj said.

The bill proposed that the terminology used in the current marriage law be changed to use “spouse” instead of “husband” and “wife” and “person” instead of “man” and “woman.” If passed, the proposed amendments will allow individuals to be legally married regardless of gender, and ensure that they receive equal rights, duties, and protection under the law. If the bill passes, LGBT couples who have registered their marriage will be able to adopt children together, make medical decisions on behalf of their partner, and in cases where one partner dies, the other will be able to inherit from their partner and make legal decisions about their partner’s assets.

After Tunyawaj’s speech, Prime Minister's Office Minister Anucha Nakasai asked parliament to forward the bill to the Cabinet for consideration, before returning it to parliament for the first reading in 60 days.

This prompted a protest from Pheu Thai MP Julapun Amornvivat, who accused the government of trying to stall the process of passing the law, even though it was proposed over a year ago. He also said that forwarding the bill to the Cabinet would delay the bill’s first reading by 3 – 4 months.

He said that, if the Cabinet is sincere in its intentions, there is no need to wait 60 days and parliament can vote on the bill during this session. He said that while the Pheu Thai party does not agree with having the bill forwarded to the Cabinet, it agrees with the bill and will vote for it to pass its first reading.

Other MPs also voiced their support for the bill. Pheu Thai MP Saran Timsuwan said that there is no reason not to pass the marriage equality bill, since it allows a group of people whose rights have been denied to be equal to others, and that there is no need for the Cabinet to take 60 days to consider the bill.

Bhumjai Thai MP Korrawee Pritsananantakul said that the most important thing for a person is to be able to choose their own life, and that this law is good and has been on parliament’s agenda for a long time, so the government should already have considered it. He said that he will vote for it to be forwarded to parliament, and will vote to have it passed when it returns to parliament for a first reading.

Siripong Angkasakulkiat, another Bhumjai Thai MP, said that he believes there are government MPs who support this law, and that he also supports it. He also said that an outdated law made people feel oppressed, and that parliament would be setting them free.

Meanwhile, Prachachat MP Sugarno Matha said he cannot vote for a law which goes against Islamic principles, and asked that the bill be changed to include a transitory provision so that it does not apply to Muslims.

Another sign seen at the 28 November 2021 marriage equality rally

However, despite the support from both government and opposition MPs, the majority of parliament voted to have the marriage equality bill forwarded to the cabinet for a 60-day review period.

During the same session, parliament also voted to forward two other bills proposed by MFP to the Cabinet for a 60-day review period: the Progressive Liquor bill, proposed by MP Taopiphop Limjittrakorn, which aims to amend the Excise Tax Act to allow for small- and medium-sized breweries to enter the alcohol market, and the Public Administration in Emergency Situation bill, proposed by MP Rangsiman Rome, which aims to replace the Emergency Decree and will limit the Prime Minister’s powers in issuing orders which may put excessive limit on the people’s rights and freedom.

All three bills have been proposed to parliament over a year ago, and will have to wait until the next parliamentary session, which starts on 22 May 2022, to go before parliament.

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