By Nophakhun Limsamarnphun
The Nation Weekend
Thailand and Taiwan will likely become the first countries in Asia to legalise same-sex unions, with both now in the process of amending legislation to that effect. According to the Thai Justice Ministry’s Rights and Liberties Protection Department, more than 97 per cent of respondents in a November 5-20 online poll voiced their support for a new civil-partnership bill that would protect some rights of the LGBT community and other groups.
A woman takes part in a rally in support of same-sex marriage near the Presidential Office in Taipei on November 18, 2018, ahead of a landmark vote on LGBT rights on November 24. AFP PHOTO
Taiwan, meanwhile, will conduct a referendum today on same-sex marriage after its Constitutional Court ruled in May last year that same-sex couples had the right to marry legally. It gave the government two years to enact legislation.
In Thailand, Kerdchoke Kasamwongjit, deputy director-general of the Rights and Liberties Protection Department, said the government conducted a series of public hearings in Bangkok and other provinces on the civil-partnership bill earlier this month. The department also organised the online opinion survey covering 3,055 respondents, of which 97.9 per cent supported the civil-partnership bill. Of the supporters, 60.3 per cent identified as LGBT, 20.9 per cent were women and 18.9 per cent were men.
Despite some opposition from rights groups, Kerdchoke said, the bill warranted more support as the first legislation to specifically protect the rights and liberties of the LBGT community. However, he admitted there were shortcomings in the draft legislation, since it would protect only the property and inheritance rights and some other rights of same-sex couples, but not their rights to public welfare, tax benefits or child adoption.
Vitaya Saeng-Aroon, director for foreign affairs at the Bangkok Rainbow Organisation, said the bill should be enacted despite shortcomings, which could be addressed in the future via legal amendments. If approved by the Cabinet and enacted by the National Legislative Assembly, the bill would represent a landmark in legally sanctioning same-sex partnerships for the first time in Thailand.
Participants walk with a rainbow banner past the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall during a gay pride parade in Taipei on October 27, 2018. AFP PHOTO
Thailand would become the first Southeast Asian country to do so. Kath Krangpiboon, a Thammasat University lecturer who won a court ruling in favour of transgender employment, said the LBGT community was quite worried about discrimination in the workforce. She said transgender people often found it difficult to secure jobs in the public and private sectors due to discriminatory attitudes.
Earlier this year, transgender Kath successfully sued Thammasat University in the Central Administrative Court for rejecting her application for a lecturer’s post. But the legislation was still essential, she said, and the next government should propose it and amend the Civil and Commercial Code granting same-sex couples the same rights enjoyed by married heterosexual couples.
Asked why the current government was moving quickly on the bill ahead of the coming election, Kath said she didn’t know, but noted that few citizens were even aware of the proposed legislation in any detail. The civil-partnership bill has more than 60 articles and grants fewer rights and liberties to same-sex couples than the existing Civil and Commercial Code, she said.
It would be preferable if, instead, the code were amended to redefine “married couple”, negating the need for a separate bill, she said. About 8 per cent of the population – some five million citizens – are believed to be members of the LGBT community or a sub-group.
Kerdchoke explained that Thailand started moving towards legal same-sex partnerships several years ago. He hoped the new bill would be the first legislation to protect the rights of LGBT citizens.
Vitaya said the bill was in its third draft and was drawing a mixed response in around the country, with opposition especially found in the predominantly Muslim southernmost provinces.
The bill is expected to go to Cabinet for approval later this month, after which it would be forwarded to the Council of State and the National Legislative Assembly (NLA).
Vitaya believed the bill would likely face opposition in the NLA if new articles are added at this stage to provide wider protection. Based on the current draft, same-sex couples would only benefit from legal protection in financial matters and would enjoy some protection in healthcare matters.
However, since it is landmark legislation, the immediate benefit going to the LGBT and related groups would be legal and wider recognition in society, from family members as well as employers, Vitaya said.
“It’s about better human rights, economic wellbeing, career advancement opportunities and diversity,” he said.
Kerdchoke agreed that there could be further amendments in the near future, especially via changes to the Civil and Commercial Code, to expand the protections of right.