When it comes to LGBTQ rights, Southeast Asia has some work to do. In Singapore, gay sex is still illegal. In the Philippines, trans people face blatant discrimination on a daily basis. But at least one country is set to make progress. If things go as planned, Thailand could become the first in the region to allow same-sex unions.
A seven-year-old bill that legalises same-sex unions is now in the final stages of approval in the Thai parliament after it was revived this month following the institution of the new Thai government, Bloomberg reported. It was endorsed by the Thai military government in December last year but stalled close to the March elections which ended military rule.
The Office of the Council of State, a government body in charge of advising lawmakers, is now reviewing the bill. Once it receives approval from the Justice Minister and Justice Permanent Secretary, it will be forwarded to parliament for an official vote. Before becoming law, the bill must be voted on by parliament, and then by the Constitutional Court of Thailand. The bill is expected to reach parliament by the end of the year. It is supported by both coalition and opposition lawmakers.
And it looks like Thais, known to be one of the most accepting of the LGBTQ community, are all for it. British market research and data analytics firm YouGov conducted a survey of 1,000 Thai nationals and found that 63 percent supported the legalisation of same-sex unions. Only 11 percent opposed it and the rest chose not to respond.
This comes just months after four openly-LGBTQ representatives were elected into the Thai legislature for the first time in March.
“It’s very significant that we now have LGBT representation in politics. Success in passing such legislation in many countries comes from having representatives lobbying and working on it,” said Kath Khangpiboon, a trans lecturer at Thammasat University.
According to the Nikkei Asian Review, Thailand had an estimated 7 million LGBTQ voters in 2019 but at the moment, same-sex couples have no legal rights in the country. If enacted, the bill would allow those in same-sex unions to manage assets together and inherit money from their partner.
While many are celebrating the bill, the opposition has criticised it for not legalising same-sex marriage. “The partnership bill differentiates same-sex unions from marriages, and that’s pushing us further away from equality,” Tanwarin Sukkhapisit, a trans parliament member who’s part of the progressive Future Forward party told Bloomberg.
The opposition wants the country’s Civil Code to be revised so that marriage is between “persons,” not just between a man and a woman.
At the moment, Taiwan is the only country in Asia to have legalised same-sex marriage, as of May 17.
This article originally appeared on VICE ASIA.