The ‘partnership act’ isn’t equal to ‘marriage’

Last week, I woke up to a celebratory scene on my newsfeed as Thailand’s cabinet greenlit the Civil Partnership Bill, which would legally recognise same-sex unions, to be voted for approval in parliament.  

Foreign media outlets, in particular, lauded the bill as a groundbreaking move for the LGBTQ+ rights movement in Asia. 

The situation in Thailand however, showed a more divided response. Debates soon heated up on Thai social media, questioning whether the bill is truly a triumph for inclusivity and equality. 

Monumental move in Asia

The Civil Partnership Bill has already been endorsed by the government. If the Civil Partnership Bill gets the parliament’s approval, then Thailand will be the first Southeast Asian country to legally recognise same-sex partnerships. We will also be the second place in Asia to legally recognise same-sex partnerships after Taiwan, where same-sex marriages were legalised in the middle of 2019. 

LGBTQ+Supporters in Taiwan celebrate the legalisation of same-sex marriage in the country in May 2019
Image credit: CNA

In a region where the LGBTQ+ community is heavily marginalised, the rights accorded by Thailand’s Civil Partnership Bill is indeed monumental. The Civil Partnership Bill would allow same-sex couples to adopt children, jointly manage assets such as property, and claim inheritance rights. 

When you compare this to Thailand’s neighbours such as Singapore, where consensual sex between men is still criminalised, or Indonesia, where arbitrary and unlawful raids occur on private LGBT gatherings, Thailand is indeed way ahead of its neighbours in the area of LGBTQ+ rights. 

Image credit: Thai Post

Deputy government spokeswoman Ratchada Thanadirek said on her social media that the bill represents a “milestone for Thai society in promoting equality among people of all genders.”

“The Civil Partnership Bill is an important step for Thai society in promoting equal rights and supporting the rights of same-sex couples to build families and live as partners,” she added.

Why I am not in favour of the same-sex partnership bill

Image credit: Tirachardz

While I can understand why so many people celebrate the same-sex partnership bill as a big step for the LGBTQ+ community, I’m not in favour of it because I believe we deserve better. Instead of representing true equality, the Civil Partnership Bill is proof of how LGBTQ+ folks in Thailand are being alienated from straight people in the eyes of the law.  

Although many people still use words like ‘marry’ and ‘spouses’ when speaking about same-sex relationships, the civil partnership act deliberately avoids using the term “marriage”, as the latter is implied to only be between a man and a woman. 

The avoidance of the term ‘marriage’ in the bill dangerously emphasises the difference between heterosexual folks and LGBTQ+ members. By creating a special term for same-sex couples, there is a risk that such differentiation will be disadvantageous for same-sex couples and cause problems down the road. 

Tanwarin in a formal Representative suit, sitting in a director chair
Image credit: BBC Thai

My sentiment is probably best exemplified by Tanwarin Sukkhapisit, a filmmaker and the first trans member of parliament from the Move Forward Party (MFP). 

“Why not just call everyone, both traditional and non-traditional couples, as married partners, why does a special term have to be assigned to LGBT as ‘civil partner’,” She told CNN.

Treated as second-class citizen

LawImage credit: Chula

Section 4 of Thailand’s Constitution clearly states:

“Human dignity, rights, liberties and equality of the people shall be protected.
The Thai people shall enjoy equal protection under this Constitution.”

When I look at the bill’s name and the language used in its contents, I can’t help but feel a sense of not belonging gathering up in my tummy. 

When l compare the Civil Partnership Act to our marriage laws, it’s as if the sacred lines from Thailand’s constitution above mean nothing. The differences between the civil partnership act and marriage go well beyond semantics, also being present in the rights and benefits that profoundly affect our daily lives.

As mentioned before, the bill ensures many legal rights to same-sex couples that are the same as heterosexual married couples such as the right to jointly own property, adopt children, and pass on an inheritance without a will. 

However, the bill denies same-sex couples certain rights that heterosexual couples in Thailand enjoy. Namely, it doesn’t allow same-sex partnerships to access a spouse’s social security’s benefits, including free medical care, tax exemptions, as well as the change of a partner’s nationality to Thai if one of them is a foreigner.

From the avoidance of the word marriage to the legal differences between heterosexual and same-sex partnerships, I can’t help but wonder why it is so difficult for LGBTQ+ members to be treated as equal citizens. 

There’s no sensible reason for tax-paying citizens, regardless of their sexual orientation, to be given different rights or be treated differently, especially by the law of the state. 

Thailand can and should do better

A trans bride and trans groom at their wedding with their families
Image credit: Kapook

Thailand has always been a haven for the LGBTQ+ community in Asia. In comparison to many other Asian countries, Thai society is a lot more open-minded when it comes to LGBTQ+ relationships. 

Not only are sex crimes motivated by sexual orientation rare in Thailand, but ‘traditional marriages’ between LGBTQ+ members often make headlines from time to time. 

In a region where media censorship of the LGBTQ+ community is rife, Thailand stands out for its popular BL/gay dramas, which positively portray the LGBTQ+ community in all of its complexities. 

LGBTQ+Thailand’s LGBTQ pride festival in Chiang Mai – the first in 10 years
Image credit: Prayer for Peace

Bangkok in particular, is also known for being a party haven for gay men from all over the world, many of whom seek refuge in our beautiful city where they are free to party without fear of persecution. 

The fact that Thailand has always been at the forefront of LGBTQ+ rights in Asia truly makes me proud as a Thai person. That is why I believe that Thailand can and should do better, when it comes to changing the law in favour of the LGBTQ+ community. We can’t claim to be more progressive than our neighbours if this new law doesn’t grant us the same rights as heterosexual couples.  

The fight goes on

As a gay man, I’ve always felt accepted by those around me throughout my life
Image credit: Mint Sarpthipratana

I am not the only one who is not in favour of the same-sex partnership bill.

Thai netizens have spawned 2 hashtags, #SayNoToCivilPartnership and #EqualMarriage, to express their disagreement with the same-sex partnership bill. 

Instead of passing a new bill, they urge the House to change the “a man and a woman” verse in the existing marriage law to “2 individuals”, so that everyone can get married with whoever they want without focusing on their sex or orientation. This is also where my stance lies.

Long road ahead

My group study and I hosted an LGBTQ+ event at my university
Image credit: Eddie Golightly

In summary, I would like to clarify that in no way am I discounting Thailand’s progress in the realm of LGBTQ+ rights. Despite the current debate, we can’t deny that Thailand has come very far in terms of equality. The fact that we even have trans people representing us in the House of Representatives right now is groundbreaking in itself.

The current Civil Partnership Bill that has stirred up so much debate is the result of many Thai LGBTQ+ activists who’ve been marching for the community’s rights throughout the years. They deserve better. We deserve better.

Let me end off by saying that Thailand’s LGBTQ+ community is not asking for more rights. We are merely asking for equal rights – and I hope that you can see why that isn’t too much to ask for.

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Cover image adapted from: Reuters 

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