Thailand cabinet backs same-sex unions

Participants wave rainbow flags during an LGBT+ rights rally in Bangkok, Thailand

Thailand’s cabinet has backed a draft bill to create same-sex civil unions.

The Financial Times reports that Thailand’s ruling military junta has approved a bill that would allow same-sex partners to gain legal rights for the first time.

If the bill is approved by the country’s Parliament, Thailand could become the first country in Asia to permit gay and lesbian couples to enter civil unions.

Thailand's junta chief and prime minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha sits with members of his cabinet at Government House in Bangkok on August 25, 2015.

Thailand’s junta chief and prime minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha sits with members of his cabinet at Government House in Bangkok on August 25, 2015. (CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT/AFP/Getty)

If passed, the bill would permit couples over the age of 20 to enter a civil partnership in Thailand, though it stops short of extending marriage or adoption rights to same-sex couples.

There is no clear timetable for the bill to go before the Thai Parliament, but crucial elections are set to be held in February 2019, and the FT reports that the bill is likely to require final assent from the newly-elected lawmakers.

The law would put Thailand, known for its socially liberal attitudes, ahead of many neighboring countries where LGBT+ issues are still strongly taboo.

In nearby Taiwan, 67 percent of voters rejected same-sex unions in a November referendum, contradicting a ruling from the country’s highest human rights court that ordered the introduction of equal marriage.

Thailand’s law would only be open to couples when at least one participant is a Thai citizen, meaning it would not provide much joy to couples across Asia, many of whom currently opt to travel to Australia or New Zealand to get married.

Elsewhere in Asia, some cities recognise same-sex unions but none have country-wide laws.

In Japan, eight municipal jurisdictions, including Fukuoka and Osaka, recognise civil partnerships.

Thailand is one of Asia’s most progressive countries on LGBT+ rights

Homosexuality has been legal in Thailand since 1956.

The country introduced discrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity in 2015, and attitudes towards LGBT+ people are typically less hostile than elsewhere.

Thai capital Bangkok is well-known as a queer tourist hotspot, and the city has been consistently rated as one of Asia’s most LGBT-friendly destinations, despite the lack of formal rights for same-sex couples.

Thailand even has its own official RuPaul’s Drag Race spin-off, Drag Race Thailand, celebrating the country’s reputation as a home to people with diverse gender identities and expressions.

Same-sex civil unions have been under discussion in Thailand for several years, with a previous bill to permit unions proposed in 2013.