Draft legislation to allow civil partnerships between LGBTI couples in Thailand has passed through the military government’s Cabinet this week.
If the bill becomes law Thailand would become the first country in Asia to allow same-sex civil partnerships.
According to Bangkok Post, to be eligible both parties must be at least 20 years old and one of them must be a Thai national. The union could only be ended through death, court order, or voluntary separation.
A civil union would entitle same-sex couples to some but not all rights afforded to their straight counterparts, including the right to make medical decisions for their partner, the joint management of assets and debts, and the right to hold a funeral and receive a partner’s inheritance upon their death.
While the move has been praised as a step in the right direction, some LGBTI activists believe the legislation doesn’t go far enough.
“People are celebrating, thinking that LGBT people will eventually be able to get married. But the reality is the legislation does not recognise many of their rights and benefits. [The law] is discriminatory in many areas,” Naiyana Supapang, former National Human Rights commissioner, told The Nation.
Supapang argues the bill violates the Constitution and the 2015 Gender Equality Act which forbids any law that limits rights or benefits based on gender. She believes the Civil Code should instead be amended to define marriage as a union between two individuals, providing the country with marriage equality.
“The Civil Partnership Bill is a great leap in the right direction towards recognizing same-sex unions in Thailand,” said Henry Koh, a human rights specialist with Fortify Rights, talking to Asia Times.
“However, the proposed bill falls short of certain fundamental rights, along with protection that is equitable to those of heterosexual unions.”
These rights include taking a partner’s surname and the legal use of surrogates, according to Koh.
Activists have also raised concerns that the legislation does not specifically mention the right for same-sex couples to adopt children but Nathporn Chatusripitak, an advisor to the Prime Minister’s office, claims that is already covered by current child adoption laws.
“The union means they can legitimately adopt a child,” Chatusripitak told Bangkok Times.
He does, however, acknowledge those in civil unions would not receive all rights afforded to heterosexual marriages.
“The differences lie in entitlements to some forms of state welfare. For example, the welfare for government officials covers their spouses. Another difference is personal income tax deductions.”
To become law the legislation must now pass through the National Legislative Assembly, which already has a backlog of 50 bills to be deliberated. If it does pass it will be announced in the Royal Gazette and will come into affect 120 days later.
Bangkok-based journalist Ryn Jirenuwat told Gay Star News that it’s difficult to predict whether or not the NLA will pass the bill, but “they might want some popularity for the next general election that will be held in February”.