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Gay civil union debate heats up in Thailand

Gay civil union debate heats up in Thailand

The debate into legal recognitions of same-sex partnerships is heating-up in Thailand, with a major TV show focusing on the issue, a discussion at one of the country’s oldest universities next week and at Bangkok’s Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC) last week.

Two programs on LGBTI issues in Thailand, including discussion of equal marriage, anti-discrimination and gender identity law, have already been recorded for mainstream TV station Channel 9 and will be shown on Friday 9 and 16 August.

Long-serving Thai LGBTI rights activist Anjana Suvarnananda appeared on the show with a gay male and a trans woman activist. ‘The hosts asked questions that resemble what the general public ask, which is good,’ she said to Gay Star News. ‘We hope the audience will learn a lot.’

LGBTI rights supporters are trying to get as much publicity on the issue while a bill on civil partnerships for same-sex couples is drafted in parliament.

‘The overall view is that the people are for this,’ said Democrat MP Wiratana Kalayasiri, who is spear-heading bill, at the discussion at Bangkok’s FCC last week.

‘At first people wondered if I would be struck by lightening because I was doing this, but as this process went on, people began to understand that this is a human right of the Thai people.’

Suvarnananda is part of the panel helping Kalayasiri and other lawmakers to draft the bill, who have been working on the wording since last year. They have held five public hearings across the country to increase support for legal recognition of same-sex partnerships.

Kalayasiri said that although the word ‘marriage’ isn’t used in this legislation, civil partnerships for same-sex couples will ‘in every respect… have the same rights as marriages do in terms of the current law’.

But same-sex couples will have to be over 20 years old, while straight couples can marry at 17 in Thailand.

If the campaigners can get 10,000 Thai citizens to support the bill – they already have 4,000 – and the support of 20 MPs they can introduce a draft bill to parliament themselves.

Suvarnananda, who is in a civil partnership under UK law, said during the FCC debate that if the law changes society and families will respect same-sex couples more.

‘What we want is security for the partnership, for the person we love,’ said Suvarnananda. ‘When our loved one is sick and ill or got into an accident we want to be able to take care of them. We don’t want to have to say we are just a friend.’

Some activists are concerned transgender people are not given the same rights in this bill. Despite widespread visibility and Thailand’s reputation as the trans capital of the world, transgender people cannot legally change their names or gender on official documents in the country.

Trans rights advocate Prempreeda Pramoj Na Ayutthaya said at the FFC that trans people support the same-sex partnership bill, but their priority is to legally change their names.

Suvarnananda is also taking part in a debate on the issue at Thammasat University, Thailand’s second oldest university next week (Friday 2 August).

No groups have spoken out against the bill yet, but supporters expect opposition in parliament and outside it, campaigner Chumaporn Taengkliang said to Thai newspaper The Nation

If the bill becomes law Thailand will become the first country in Asia to recognize same-sex partnership rights.

Governments in Taiwan and Vietnam are looking into similar legislation, but no plans to legalize same-sex unions are imminent in those countries.

Watch the video of Kalayasiri and Survarnananda speaking at the FCC discussion here: