Thailand is set to allow same sex couples to enter into civil partnerships, becoming the first country in South East Asia to legalise same sex unions.

The Thai cabinet on Wednesday approved the draft Civil Partnership Act that will allow same sex civil unions, but stops short of allowing same sex marriages. The proposed law will grant same sex couples many – but not all – of the same rights as married heterosexual couples, including allowing them to start families, adopt a child, inherit property and jointly own property. The draft law will not allow same sex couples access to each other’s pension and other welfare benefits, but authorities say these could be granted in the future. It now heads to parliament for a vote to make it the law of the land.

Thailand will become the second country in Asia to recognise same sex couples after Taiwan allowed marriage equality in 2019. The proposed law will permit couples who are at least 17 years old to register their civil partnership as long as one of them is a Thai citizen.

Deputy government spokesperson Ratchada Dhnadirek posted on Facebook that the cabinet was “based on the principle that all groups of people and gender diversity will be protected fairly, equally, without discrimination and they will be able to live their lives in society with dignity.

“The Act is a milestone for Thai society to promote equality of all genders. It guarantees the right to establish a family for same-sex couples.”

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 Addressing concerns that the civil partnerships were not equal to marriages, the spokesperson said these will be examined and improvements made in due course.

“As for other rights that may not yet be equal to male-female spouses,  when the law comes into effect it will be evaluated  for various contexts including improvements to other relevant laws,” added Dhnadirek.

The Civil Partnership Act has, however, not been welcomed by all. Move Forward MP Tanwarin Sukkhapisit, who identifies as non-binary, questioned the law that created a class of unequals – civil parters were not the same as spouses.

“The Civil Partnerships Act creates more distinctions and inequality between LGBT and heterosexual couples,” Sukkhapisit said in a post on social media. “When we are married, why do we have to use different laws. The Act does not result in equality at all.”

Sukkhapisit said that the proposed law was different to the amendment proposed by the Move Forward Party seeking a change to the civil code to define marriage as between two persons instead of male and female.

“The Partnership Act will make LGBT people feel more alienated, create gender bias and cause inequality. Marriage equality is necessary to create true equality and LGBT people truly equal to everyone,” Sukkhapisit posted.

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