Last year, a same-sex couple from Thailand’s northern city of Chiang Mai attempted to make their two-decade relationship official by applying for a marriage registration. Nathee Theeraronjanapong (55) and his partner Atthapon Janthawee (38) had their request to marry denied by local officials – who stated that Thailand’s Civil and Commercial Code deemed gay marriage illegal.
The couple fired back at the perceived discrimination by filing official complaints with Thailand’s Parliamentary Human Rights Commission, Administrative Court, and National Human Rights Commission, insisting that the constitution guarantees equal protection under the law. As has been the case in other countries pushing for same-sex marriage, strict wording of what defines a married couple was likely the issue.
“While the constitution says that human rights shall equally be protected irrespective of sex, and that men and women shall enjoy the equal rights, Section 1458 of the Thai Civil and Commercial Code says ‘a marriage can take place only if the man and woman agree to take each other as husband and wife,’” explained Prachatai.
The political storm that followed the couple’s struggle drew national media attention to the issue of same-sex marriage, leading one Thai politician to draft the country’s first civil union bill. Wiratana Kalayasiri, a Democrat parliamentarian from the southern city of Songkhla – who also chairs the nation’s Legal Justice Human Rights Committee – is leading the fight for marriage equality.
While Thailand’s youth are generally accepting of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) individuals, older Thais are less open-minded to the idea of same-sex marriage. Kalayasiri’s bill faced strong opposition at its inception, partly due to the fact that most lawmakers in Thailand fall on the other side of the generation gap.
“At first, there was a negative impression, and people were wondering why I was doing this, but as this process went on people started to understand that this is a human right of the Thai people, guaranteed under the constitution. Since then minds have changed,” Kalayasiri told the IPS News Agency.
He continued: “We have held five hearings on the bill at several universities throughout Thailand and in parliament as well. A survey of 200-300 people showed that 78 percent are in favor of allowing same-sex marriage and 10.3 percent are against it.”
Thai LGBT activist Anjana Suvarnananda, co-founder of the country’s first LGBT advocacy group, is a strong supporter of the marriage equality bill. She cited legal protections for married couples as a major factor for pushing the measure through the courts.
“If there is a severe accident or health issue, like if my partner becomes ill, then in the eyes of the law I am no one other than just a friend. This forces us [in the LGBT community] to struggle by ourselves. We want more security,” Suvarnananda said.
Regardless of Kalayasiri’s political campaigning and Suvarnananda’s advocacy, a government survey in 2012 found that 60 percent of Thais are against gay marriage. Faced with these numbers, marriage equality is likely to face a lengthy battle in Thailand’s parliament.
“I can’t say how many years it will take to achieve the final goal. Calm down and don’t be in a hurry,” said Danai Linjongrat, Director of the Rainbow Sky Association of Thailand.