Thailand Becomes First Southeast Asian Country to Legalise Same-Sex Marriage

By Jude Jones.

Thailand’s senate has voted to pass a marriage equality bill, set to come into effect 120 days following its expected publishing in the royal gazette. This “monumental step forward,” in the words of Thai activists, will make the country the first in the region to enshrine such rights.

The news further makes Thailand the third country in Asia to legalise same-sex marriage once it receives royal approval, preceded only by Taiwan and Nepal.

Although Thailand has long been a popular tourist destination for Western visitors and has amassed a reputation as an oasis of LGBTQ+ acceptance and inclusivity – in large parts thanks to its own rich drag culture – queer people in Thailand say that they continue to experience discrimination in day-to-day-life. The passage of the bill is the product of some two decades of activism, winning an overwhelming majority in the senate’s upper house, 130 votes in favour from a total of 152 members.

Activists and party-goers at a Pride parade in Bangkok, Thailand’s capital.

“We are very proud to make history,” said Plaifah Kyoka Shodladd, a member of the parliamentary committee on same-sex marriage. “Today love triumphed prejudice […] after fighting for more than 20 years, today we can say this country has marriage equality.”

The rights outlined in the legislation will also apply to trans people. Despite this, Thai law only recognises people according to their sex assigned at birth. Campaigners are now hoping to change this, too.

Laws criminalising same-sex sexual acts are still prolific elsewhere in the region though, often hangovers from British colonial law. In bordering Myanmar, the 1861 Penal Code, instituted under British rule, is still in effect and threatens those who commit same-sex sexual acts with up to twenty years in imprisonment. Similar legislation exists in Malaysia, ranked in 2023 as the second worst country in the world in terms of transgender rights by the Global Trans Rights Index.

More images from a Thai Pride parade.

However, local activists are slowly pushing back. In Cambodia, King Norodom Sihamoni has declared his support for the legalisation of same-sex marriage, while Singapore in 2022 repealed a colonial-era law criminalising sex between men.

Change, unfortunately, looks like it may be slow. Alongside these signs of progress, other nations in the region like Myanmar and Brunei have further clamped down on LGBTQ+ rights within their borders. The introduction of sharia codes in Myanmar has been a significant contributing factor in this downslide, according to Human Rights Watch.

Thailand’s legislative move has nonetheless been heralded as a “triumph for justice and human rights” in Southeast Asia by human rights activist Mookdapa Yangtuenpradorn. “The journey to this point has been long and fraught will challenges, but today’s vote to ensure marriage equality marks a historic moment that deserves celebration.”

Jude Jones is the Managing Editor of GAY45 and is an interdisciplinary journalist, currently completing an undergraduate degree in History & French at the University of Cambridge. Their writing – covering photography, nightlife, fashion, gallery reviews, interest pieces, and political comments – has also been published by Varsity, The Cambridge Language Collective, DISRUPTION, and the Cambridge Review of Books, among others. 

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