What does Thailand’s same-sex marriage bill mean for LGBTQ+ rights in Southeast Asia?

June 21, 2024
two men wave gay flags

Image: Rachasuk, Getty Images.

As Pride Month reached its third week, Thailand’s LGBTQ+ community has been met with some monumental news: the passing of a bill by the Thai Senate which grants same-sex couples the ability to marry, as well as avail of privileges including spousal tax deductions, insurance, and inheritance laws. The bill was widely popular, with 130 votes for, 4 against, and 18 abstentions

The Senate’s approval of this bill means it will only take a symbolic approval of its passing by Thai royalty, and 120 days after its publishing in the royal paper, before the bill is officially enacted

After over 20 years of activist and grassroots efforts pushing to improve rights for the LGBTQ+ community in Thailand, the passing of this bill is a momentous milestone for same-sex couples, marking the country as one taking steps forward to create an increasingly safe space for its queer community.

Thailand marks itself as the first country in Southeast Asia to legalise same-sex marriage. Across broader East Asia, only Taiwan and Nepal have taken this step, with Taiwan passing a bill in 2019 and Nepal in 2023. These three countries’ action for the LBGTQ+ community is, however, not the norm in the region, with the rest of East Asia either refusing to pass pro-LGBTQ+ legislation or deeming same-sex relations as illegal. Myanmar and Brunei serve as two examples of same-sex relations being illegal in the region. 

While countries such as Indonesia and Vietnam do not explicitly ban same-sex relations, they currently stand as two of many that have not taken any steps to further the protection of LGBTQ+ people. The status of the majority of East Asian countries serves as a marker of the fact that the region has much to work on in its promotion of legal protection for the community.

The region may have much work to do, but Thailand’s step forward hasn’t been the only one in recent years. Malaysia’s court asserted in 2021 that the banning of same-sex intercourse was unconstitutional, and Bhutan legalised same-sex intercourse the same year. Hong Kong removed surgery as a requirement for gender reassignment in 2023, and Taiwan has taken new measures to promote same-sex joint adoption. This collective regional progress is promising– but still leaves much to be desired. What we can say is that Thailand’s actions serve as both an example and an impetus for its East Asian neighbours to create a better future for the LGBTQ+ community.