A foreign correspondent asked me earlier this week why it’s taking so long to achieve same sex marriage in Thailand and why we are not yet there. This came days after the Constitutional Court ruled that marriage, defined as a union between man and woman, is constitutional. The ruling was greeted with outrage by LGBT groups and human rights organizations.
The foreign correspondent from Australia pointed out to me that Thailand “has a reputation of being LGBTIQ friendly – with transgender politicians, pioneering gender reassignment surgeons, popular ladyboys, and whole tourism campaigns aimed at gay tourists.” She asked if the court’s ruling wasn’t a contradiction. “Isn’t it odd, that same sex marriage has not been legalized?”
In trying to understand the perceived contradiction we have to look closely and first recognize that there exists a generational gap when it comes to openness towards accepting LGBT rights. Virtually all the nine constitutional judges are elderly people, over 60. On the other hand, many of those visibly campaigning for LGBT rights are decades younger.
To be fair to the nine judges who made the ruling last week, no where did the judges say that same-sex marriage is unconstitutional and it added an addendum that the executive and legislative branch could find a path around the issue. So yes, it’s been delayed, it’s a detour and despite the court’s failure to endorse same-sex marriage as constitutional it was not an absolute snub. Perhaps they were reluctant, believing that change should come gradually, or were too literal in interpreting the old law that marriage is a union between man and woman and simply stated that this is constitutional — but the court definitely did not say same sex-marriage is unconstitutional.
Be that as it may, if we look at the larger context, there exist no visible or coherent opposition to same-sex marriage among the public, be it by religious or political groups. (The last publicly visible homophobic anti-LGBT pride parade was in fact made by Chiang Mai 51 redshirts group who “successfully” opposed holding a Pride Parade back in 2009). But unlike countries like Australia where the same correspondent told me there’s a strong Christian opposition to same sex-marriage, there exist no organized anti same-sex marriage group in the kingdom.
In Thailand, while it’s still difficult, or impossible, to be openly gay and ordained as a monk, there exist no public opposition among Buddhist clerics when it comes to same-sex marriage.
The second factor that needs to be pointed out is that although many who are visibly campaigning for LGBT rights and same-sex marriage are young and vibrant, they are largely confined to the political opposition side, the monarchy-reform and anti-government side which includes Move Forward Party, of the political divide. On Sunday, LGBT groups will in fact hold a demonstration in Bangkok as a result of the ruling and also to show their opposition to the Prayut Chan-o-cha regime. This in itself may be a good thing but we must consider the fact that the current political situation is toxic. Cross political-divide LGBT alliance needs to be forged to ensure that Thailand will attain legal same-sex marriage rights. Those who strongly support LGBT rights on both sides should put politics aside and work to realize their long-aspired common goals.
Additionally, where there already exists a tacit consensus in Thai society that LGBT people are equal and just like the rest of us and should enjoy equal rights in all aspects, it’s unfair to leave the remaining fight to LGBTIQ people alone. This is a common fight for a more inclusive and tolerant society and against homophobia. It bears upon the rest of us in Thai society, the non-LGBT people, to join the fight and see it through.
Draft bill for civil partnerships is neither sufficient nor just. LGBT people deserve equal and same rights under the laws. It is unjust and cruel for Thai society to prolong the situation and deny them equal rights and we all need to do what we can to finally make it a reality.