Wednesday December 19, 2018
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Thailand Considers Same-Sex, LGBT Couples Rights Bill

If the law passes by then, Thailand will be the first country in Asia to fully legalize country-wide same-sex unions.

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LGBT, Thailand
Thai LGBT community participates in Gay Freedom Day Parade in Bangkok, Thailand. VOA
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Thailand’s government is considering a proposed Life Partnership Bill, which would guarantee same-sex couples rights similar to couples in traditional marriages, including the use of one’s spouse’s surname, property rights and the right to end the partnership.

The move is seen as a milestone in efforts to improve legal rights for those in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender, or LGBT, community, which comprises an estimated 8 percent of the population, or about 6 million people.

For hotel receptionist Patipant Chuthapun, who lives with his partner in the northern city of Chiang Mai, the proposed partnership law is a welcome one.

In the lobby of the boutique Isty hotel in the city’s urban core, the 23-year-old worker feels most at ease with his sexual identity, while he can openly greet foreign tourists, including gay and lesbian travelers.

“At first, when I worked at the hotel, I felt like I had to hide my identity because I wasn’t sure if the guests would look down at me. But they seem to be more open and accepting to the way I am,” he said.

What was more challenging to Chuthapun was telling his parents about his sexuality when he was a teenager going to school in the conservative farming community, where more than 90 percent of Thais practice the conservative Theravada Buddhism.

“We have problems with the family, and they don’t accept who we are because Thailand is not as open as Western countries,” said Chuthapun.

“Now, we have the law, and our families have heard about it and they are starting to open their hearts for us.”

Current marriage laws reflect a traditional interpretation of gender and family arrangement with reference specifically to men and women.

LGBT groups have been holding public hearings and rallies at major centers across the country, ahead of a government decision on whether to have the new civil partnership bill go before a legislative assembly this year.

The bill was first drafted in February 2013, but proceedings were sidelined a year later, after a May 2014 coup and subsequent government reshuffle.

Marriage, taiwan, LGBT
Lin Chinxuan, right, holds a reflector as Austin Haung, 32, photographs Kao Shaochun, left, and John Sugden during their pre-wedding photoshoot in Taipei, Taiwan, Nov. 11, 2018. Chinxuan and Haung are a couple and together they run Hiwow studio photographing LGBTQ couples. VOA

Now, the renewed hearings have caught the attention of many in the LGBT community, including Patawee Triwijan, a resort worker and Chuthapun’s live-in boyfriend.

“In the past when we first lived together, we had to pretend to be like others and say that we were just friends. So, when we went out in public, we didn’t dare to hold our hands to show our affection,” said Triwijan, as he monitored a popular LGBT website for updates on the proposed law.

“Things are changing now because we have more support. and we aren’t afraid to hold our hands in public,” Triwijan added with a smile.

At the Chiang Mai Rights and Liberties Protection Department, the staff is busy compiling recommendations gathered from hearings in the northern regions of Thailand.

“We opened the public hearing stage for every group, for LGBTs and for the government that has to implement this law if it is passed,” said Director General Phuchit Jaruwat.

“We discussed the challenges and limitations that this will have — if passed — and open up to opinions of what we need to make the law work best in our society.”

“Thailand wants to have the same standard of rights for the LGBT community so that all members of society have the same status.”

pride flag, LGBT
The rainbow pride flag of the LGBT community. Wikimedia Commons

Gay rights groups say the bill is a positive step but that they will continue to push, hoping that the measure is a sign of more rights to follow.

“Thailand looks a lot like a paradise for the LGBT community but in reality, we don’t have any written laws or regulations to support our community. So, we are faced with many problems in Thai society that we need to fix,” said Ratthawit Apiputthiphan, director of Mplus, an aid group for the LGBT community.

Aside from the stated benefits, the act raises the age of legal consent from 17 to 20 and does not include joint adoption or parental rights.

“For the latest same-sex marriage law, they need more adjustments and changes to make it more complete for the LGBT group,”Apiputthiphan adds.

“For example, when a partner gets sick, we can sign the documents for his treatment and for adoption, to allow us to adopt children.”

“We want to have all equal rights, the same treatment as ordinary men and women. It seems like they have this law just to label us.”

Also Read: Same-sex Marriage Referendum Gets Rejected In Taiwan

A 2014 country report that was reviewed by USAID and the United Nations Development Program, or UNDP, noted that in Thailand’s southern provinces, where followers of Islam largely congregated, attitudes toward the LGBT community were more conservative and unfavorable. The document, Being LGBT in Asia: Thailand Country Report, also said, “Legal and policy reform is seen as difficult both because lawmakers tend to be conservative and, because the constitution and country’s laws are seen as sacred.” (It noted the opinions did not reflect the official policy positions of USAID or UNDP).

Although the date for the vote is still unconfirmed, Gen. Phuchit Jaruwat, the rights and liberties protection director, said, “We hope to have the bill finalized and for a vote before the end of the year.” If the law passes by then, Thailand will be the first country in Asia to fully legalize country-wide same-sex unions. (VOA)

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Same-sex Marriage Referendum Gets Rejected in Taiwan

"This result is a bitter blow and a step backwards for human rights in Taiwan,"

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Taiwan
Participants pull a rainbow tarpaulin through the gay and lesbian parade in Taipei, Taiwan, Oct. 28, 2017. Voters reject legalizing same-sex unions in a referendum, Nov. 24, 2018. VOA

Voters in Taiwan passed a referendum asking that marriage be restricted to one man and one woman, a setback to LGBT couples hoping their island will be the first place in Asia to let same-sex couples share child custody and insurance benefits.

The vote on Saturday, organized by Christian groups that make up about 5 percent of Taiwan’s population and advocates of the traditional Chinese family structure, goes against a May 2017 Constitutional Court ruling. Justices told legislators then to make same-sex marriage legal within two years, a first for Asia where religion and conservative governments normally keep the bans in place.

Although the ballot initiative is advisory only, it is expected to frustrate lawmakers mindful of public opinion as they face the court deadline next year. Many legislators will stand for re-election in 2020.

Marriage, taiwan
Lin Chinxuan, right, holds a reflector as Austin Haung, 32, photographs Kao Shaochun, left, and John Sugden during their pre-wedding photoshoot in Taipei, Taiwan, Nov. 11, 2018. Chinxuan and Haung are a couple and together they run Hiwow studio photographing LGBTQ couples. VOA

“The legislature has lots of choices on how to make this court order take effect,” said referendum proponent Chen Ke, a Catholic pastor in Taiwan and an opponent of same-sex marriage.

Ruling party lawmakers backed by President Tsai Ing-wen had proposed legalizing same-sex marriage in late 2016, but put their ideas aside to await the court hearing.

Opposition to same-sex marriage crested after the court ruling. Opponents have held rallies and mobilized votes online.

Courts will still consider local marriage licensing offices in violation of the law by May 2019, if they refuse same-sex couples, a Ministry of Justice spokesperson said last week.

pride flag, taiwan
The rainbow pride flag of the LGBT community. wikimedia

“The referendum is a general survey, it doesn’t have very strong legal implications,” said Shiau Hong-chi, professor of gender studies and communications management at Shih-Hsin University in Taiwan. “One way or another it has to go back to the court.”

Voters approved a separate measure Saturday calling for a “different process” to protect same-sex unions. It’s viewed as an alternative to using the civil code. A third initiative, also approved, asked that schools avoid teaching LGBT “education.”

Amnesty International told the government it needs to “deliver equality and dignity.”

Also Read: Law Legalising Same-sex Marriage Causes Grudges Between Families in Taiwan

“This result is a bitter blow and a step backwards for human rights in Taiwan,” Amnesty’s Taiwan-based Acting Director Annie Huang said. “However, despite this setback, we remain confident that love and equality will ultimately prevail.”

Taiwanese also elected candidates from the China-friendly opposition Nationalist Party to a majority of mayoral and county magistrate posts, reversing the party’s losses in 2014. (VOA)