Thailand's Senate overwhelmingly approves a landmark bill to legalize same-sex marriages

Participants wave flags celebrating equality in marriage at government house in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, June 18, 2024. Thailand's Senate voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to approve a marriage equality bill, clearing the last legislative hurdle for the country to become the first in Southeast Asia to enact such a law. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)


BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand’s Senate voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to approve a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage, clearing the last legislative hurdle for the country to become the first in Southeast Asia to enact such a law.

Thailand has a reputation for acceptance and inclusivity but has struggled for decades to pass a marriage equality law. Thai society largely holds conservative values, and members of the LGBTQ+ community say they face discrimination in everyday life.

The government and state agencies are also historically conservative, and advocates for gender equality have had a hard time pushing lawmakers and civil servants to accept change.

Thailand will become the third place in Asia, after Taiwan and Nepal, to allow same-sex marriage. The marriage equality bill, which grants full legal, financial and medical rights for marriage partners of any gender, sailed through the House of Representatives right before the previous parliamentary session concluded in April with the approval of 400 of the 415 members who were present.

It passed its final reading in the Senate on Tuesday with the approval of 130 of the 152 members in attendance, with 4 voting against it and 18 abstaining.

The bill now needs the pro forma endorsement of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, followed by its publication in the Government Gazette, which will set a date within 120 days when it becomes effective.

The timing of the Senate’s vote on Tuesday, the first day of the current parliamentary session, suggests the urgency in getting the bill passed. The legislation will amend the country’s Civil and Commercial Code to replace gender-specific words such as “men and women” with gender-neutral words such as “individual.”

But it was not approved without a hitch. One member of the Senate, retired army Gen. Worapong Sa-nganet, argued that the gender-specific terms should still be included in the law along with the gender-neutral terms. He said excluding them would be a severe “subversion of the institution of family” in Thailand.

After the vote, Plaifah Kyoka Shodladd, an 18-year-old who identifies as non-binary, took the floor and thanked everyone who supported the legislation, calling it a “force of hope” that will help Thailand become more accepting of diversity.

“Today, love trumps prejudice,” Plaifah said.

The government, confident of the bill’s passage, announced several days ago it would host a celebration of the occasion later Tuesday at Government House. The ground in front of the main building was decorated with rainbow carpets, flags and a giant balloon in the shape of two hands making a heart sign. The party was joined by politicians, celebrities, diplomats and activists from the LGBTQ+ community and their supporters who rode in a colorful parade of floats from Parliament after the vote.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, who could not join the event because he recently tested positive for COVID-19, wrote his congratulations on social media platform X.

“I am proud of the collective effort of all stakeholders which reiterates the power of ‘unity in diversity’ of the Thai society. We will continue our fight for social rights for all people regardless of their status,” he wrote.

Passing the law is a “triumph for justice and human rights,” said Mookdapa Yangyuenpradorn of the human rights organization Fortify Rights.

“The Thai government must now focus on ensuring swift and effective implementation of this law to safeguard LGBTI+ rights,” she said. “Marriage equality is fundamental to human dignity, and it is essential that Thailand protects these rights without delay or discrimination.”

The government led by the Pheu Thai party, which took office last year, has made marriage equality one of its main goals. It made a major effort to identify itself with the annual Bangkok Pride parade earlier this month, in which thousands of people celebrated in one of Bangkok’s busiest commercial districts.