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Thai LGBT Activist Anjana Suvarnananda on Same-Sex Marriage

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Asia Life

Thai LGBT Activist Anjana Suvarnananda on Same-Sex Marriage

More countries are legalizing same-sex marriage, but work remains.

Although 15 countries have already legalized same-sex marriage, with New Zealand being the latest, it appears this dream will take longer to be realized in Thailand. “To most people, weddings are about celebrations—wearing cute white dresses,” Anjana Suvarnananda, founder of Thailand’s first LGBT rights organization, the Anjaree Foundation, told The Diplomat. “But for LGBT people it’s much more than that.”

Anjana explained that one of the biggest reasons same-sex marriage is needed is that some LGBT couples have been living together for years without support from their families. Yet, when problems occur, such as a hospital emergency, their partner isn’t allowed to be the caretaker since they’re not legally married. What happens in most situations like these is that the partner must call on family members who might never have known about their son’s or daughter’s LGBT status, or who has ostracized them from the family after learning of it.

Another situation in which issues occur is when a same-sex couple has been living together for a long time and one of the partners dies. Anjana says that in this situation, the other partner doesn’t get any rights to the property or will of the deceased since there is no marriage license to prove that they’ve been linked in any way. The property is passed entirely on to siblings or other family members.

Anjana says there are several ways Thailand could fight for same-sex marriage. The first one is drafting a civil union bill. Wiratana Kalayasiri, a Democrat parliamentarian from the southern city of Songkhla, has drafted Thailand's first such bill, which works to amend Section 1448 of the Thai Civil and Commercial Code. This code states: “A marriage can take place only if the man and woman agree to take each other as husband and wife.”

Anjana explained that even if the bill was approved, other changes to the civil codes would still need to be addressed. If this fails to get the attention of parliament, the LGBT community would need to get 10,000 signatures with copies of house registration and ID cards from each person, propose the draft to parliament, and then get every member of the parliament to vote yes to the draft. With social networks and LGBT communities everywhere this seems easy enough, but Anjana says otherwise.

“Imagine going to houses and asking people to sign your draft,” says Anjana, “Nobody is going to sign it if the rights aren’t significant to them.”

Meanwhile, same-sex couples are finding different ways to gain acceptance of their union. Anjana has an English partner and has a civil partnership registration from the UK embassy in Vietnam, since Thailand doesn’t have that service. The civil partnership registration gives same-sex couples most of the rights of civil marriage, though not all. Even if this registration doesn’t give her the same rights in Thailand, she said she might consider moving to another country that recognizes the rights should anything happen. Even so, there are immigration issues that need to be considered. Is it really worth all the trouble?

“I like to know that I can take care of my partner as she’s far away from her family and relatives,” she said.

The Anjaree Foundation has gained some media attention by getting two of their same-sex couples to the marriage registration office in Thailand. While it didn’t convince the officers to give them rights to a marriage license, the attempt did generate publicity. Months ago, two lesbian girls in Thailand had their own wedding ceremonies. They didn’t receive a marriage registration either, but were given an interview on The Woody Show, one of the most popular talk shows in Thailand. They said on the show that they would love to be legally married, and emphasized that a marriage license would give them more stability. With a Facebook page (see the Aris&Pizchy Fanpage, here) they have garnered more than 17,000 likes to date.

Despite the fact that there aren’t many Asian LGBT couples legally married in their home countries, the community is nonetheless pleased to hear any good news. With the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling to strike down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in June, some LGBT couples in the U.S. are getting married. Recently, Anjana posted how happy she is that after 42 years, comedy legend Lily Tomlin and her partner, writer Jane Wagner, are getting married after the Supreme Court overturned California’s antigay marriage legislation Proposition 8, making it legal for same-sex couples to get married in California.

Nevertheless, Anjana emphasized that although same-sex rights are important, the constitution really needs to provide gender-neutral rights. All people must be treated equally.