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Thailand Passes Bill to Legalize Same-Sex Marriage

(Bloomberg) -- Thailand’s lawmakers passed a legislation to recognize same-sex marriage, paving the way for the country to become the first in Southeast Asia to guarantee marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples.

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The 500-member House of Representatives voted to pass the so-called “marriage equality” bill, technically an amendment to the Civil and Commercial Code, in a final reading on Wednesday. As many as 400 lawmakers backed the legislation, while 10 opposed it and five members either abstained or didn’t vote, after more than three hours of debate.

The bill now heads to the upper-house Senate, which is set to review it on April 2. It will then be endorsed by the King and published in the Royal Gazette. The amendments will take effect 120 days later.

When the changes come into force, Thailand will recognize marriage registrations of same-sex partners aged 18 and above, along with their rights to inheritance, tax allowances and child adoption, among others. Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin’s administration has made it a signature issue, and advocates say it would also burnish Thailand’s reputation as an LGBTQ-friendly tourist destination.

“This will not take away any rights from men and women, and will instead extend the rights to LGBTQ groups,” said Danuphorn Punnakanta, head of a panel of lawmakers that steered the bill. “We seek to return to them the rights that they have lost.”

READ: How Thailand Is Making Waves on Gay Rights, Legal Pot: QuickTake

The landmark legislation seeks to formally change the composition of a marriage from “a man and a woman” to “two individuals,” and change the official legal status from “husband and wife” to “married couple.” The move goes further than attempts by previous Thai administrations, which sought to grant equal rights for same-sex couples by formalizing civil partnerships but stopped short of recognizing their marriage.

Thailand will become the third place in Asia to recognize same-sex marriage, after Taiwan and Nepal, and rank among some 40 countries around the world to guarantee equal marital rights.

Recent efforts elsewhere in the region have had mixed results. Hong Kong has yet to comply with a 2023 court order to establish laws recognizing same-sex partnerships, and India’s Supreme Court refused to legalize same-sex marriage, saying it’s an issue for parliament to consider.

LGBTQ activists in Thailand have fought for over a decade for the same rights to marry as heterosexual couples. Although Thai laws have protected LGBTQ people from most kinds of discrimination since 2015, attempts to formalize marriage rights had stalled.

In 2021, the Constitutional Court upheld the law recognizing marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman. Last year, a bill to recognize same-sex civil partnerships failed to clear parliament ahead of elections.

Tourism Boost

Legalizing same-sex marriage could also have positive impact on tourism, which contributes about 12% to the nation’s $500 billion economy. In 2019, before the pandemic froze international tourism, LGBTQ travel to Thailand generated about $6.5 billion, or 1.2% of gross domestic product, according to industry consultant LGBT Capital.

Formal recognition could boost the reputation of a place already considered one of Asia’s best for LGBTQ visitors, allowing it to benefit from the “pink economy,” said Wittaya Luangsasipong, managing director of Siam Pride, an LGBTQ-friendly travel agency in Bangkok.

“It will become a selling point for Thailand and raise our strength in the global stage,” Wittaya said. “It will create a relaxed and safe atmosphere and attract more and more LGBTQ visitors. We could also see more weddings by LGBTQ couples, which could generate income across industries and local communities.”

Many same-sex couples will also consider moving back or relocating to Thailand for work, he said.

Srettha’s government has vowed to push ahead with more progressive laws, including legislations to recognize gender identity and legalize prostitution. The health ministry has also proposed legalizing commercial surrogacy to allow LGBTQ couples to adopt children. Thailand is seeking to host the WorldPride events in Bangkok in 2028.

“The marriage equality bill is just the first step. There are many more to come,” said Danuphorn of the ruling Pheu Thai Party. A gender identity bill will likely be proposed in the next sitting of the parliament that will begin in July, he said.

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