Will Thailand become the first Southeast Asian country to have same-sex marriage?

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Liberalization of cannabis laws (though we’re not sure of the final details at this point), decriminalization of kratom, pride marches held across Thailand this year, and protesters daring to mention changes to the constitution, including the word “K”… What’s next for the country led by a military-linked conservative government?

It could be the full legal recognition of same-sex relationships. Or even same-sex marriage, a complete overhaul of Thai marriage law.

Thailand appears poised to be the first Southeast Asian nation to recognize same-sex partnerships, in the form of civil unions, possibly even full marriage equality. Proposals for both have been presented to the Thai parliament and passed their first reading.

It is almost certain that either will become law in Thailand by the end of this year, despite the need for support from conservative parties.

Along with the decriminalization of cannabis on June 9 (the sky hasn’t fallen yet), the month of June also saw Pride marches and events across the country. Many companies have changed their logos to versions of the rainbow flag and many politicians have said all the right things about the “changes” needed in Thailand for the Southeast Asian country to become more inclusive and leads the way in the region.

Despite its reputation for a relaxed approach to sexual matters, Thailand is deeply conservative when it comes to many social mores, including sexuality – so long as it was confined to the limited selves of Patpong, Pattaya and Patong.

But there has been a quantum shift over the past few decades, and now there are plenty of LGBT characters in nearly every soap opera, many movie themes, and openly gay celebrities, normalizing the issues. Kathhoey (ladyboys) are a staple of Thailand’s red-light districts, popular culture and will be seen in workplaces and shops across the country – Thais don’t bat an eyelid anymore.

Now, Thailand’s parliament is poised to pass legislation that will recognize same-sex civil partnerships, often seen as the first step toward comprehensive changes to marriage laws in countries around the world. A proposal has also been presented to the Thai parliament to take the final step without taking the country through the “civil union” stage.

Activists explain that some same-sex or opposite-sex couples may simply want civil unions, while others may want a full marriage, and they believe both options should be available to everyone.

The themes of many of this year’s Pride marches, the first for some cities and towns in more than a decade, proudly and loudly proclaimed the rights of Thailand’s LGBT community to have full and equal rights, in law.

The next stages of the legislation will take place over the next few months and are currently in the “community consultation” phase. General elections will be held later this year or before March 2023.

The conservative coalition, trailing in all the latest polls, will want to appear progressive, inclusive and relevant come election time, and is keen to portray itself as the party of all Thais, including LGBT people.

Taiwan became the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide on May 24, 2019. Will Thailand be the first country in Southeast Asia to do the same?

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