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Thailand legalizes same-sex marriage in a historic first.

The move comes as LGBTQ rights continue to deteriorate in other parts of the world.

The Kingdom of Thailand has become the first Southeast Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage in what has been described as a “monumental” step among the supporters of the move. Only Nepal and Taiwan allow same-sex marriage in Asia and Thailand would ascend to third place. Following a final reading, the Senate easily approved the bill, with 130 senators voting yes. Only four MPs opposed the bill.

The bill was previously passed by the House of Representatives in March. The legislation would become law after being evaluated by a Senate committee and the Constitutional Court, as well as receiving the king’s royal assent, which is largely expected since it is a formality. The law will thereafter take effect 120 days after it is published in the Royal Gazette.

Thailand has historically been very liberal to gay people and it’s considered among the most comprehensive when it comes to LGBTQ rights in the region and continent. Homosexuality was legalized way back in 1956 with equal age on consent equalized in 1997. Thailand is also home to the world-famous “ladyboy”. Thailand has also long been known for its tolerance of LGBT individuals; the country has numerous LGBT nightclubs and pubs, and the first Thai LGBT magazine, Mithuna, was published in 1983. Bangkok has also been rated as the best LGBT destination in several publications.

While the victory is rightfully earned, the journey to the top has never been easier. The majority of Thai society is socially conservative, and LGBTQ+ people indicate they encounter discrimination on a daily basis. The government and state institutions have also historically been conservative, and activists for gender equality have struggled to persuade politicians and civil officials to embrace change.

Currently, 37 countries have legislations that guarantee marriage equality. Europe is the continent with the highest number of countries guaranteeing marriage equality while Africa is the least with just one country guaranteeing marriage equality. The Netherlands was the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage in 2001. Africa has 1, the Americas (both North and South) have 10, Europe 21, Oceania and Asia have 2 each at the moment. 

Andorra was the last country in 2023 to legalize same-sex marriage while Estonia was the first country to do so in 2024. The latest country to legalize the same in the world was Nepal and Greece was the latest country in Europe to do the same even after a spirited fight put up by the Church. South Africa is the only country in Africa to allow same-sex marriage under the Civil Union Act which was passed in 2006. Japan is the only G7 country that doesn’t allow same-sex marriage despite courts ruling that not doing so is unconstitutional. It is widely expected that they will do so in a few years ahead.

It is worth noting that although some countries haven’t fully legalized same-sex marriage, some countries have some form of wide-ranging legal positions granting something similar rights and privileges to same-sex couples. Some regions in some countries perform same-sex marriage which may not be performed nationally. Countries like Croatia, Hungary, and Italy allow civil unions while places like India, Japan, and Namibia allow minimal recognition of the same. Some territories like South Korea have heard court cases that were ruled in favor of same-sex couples.

While progress is happening, there are still cases where some places are regressing. In 2023, Uganda passed the draconian Anti Homosexuality Act that imposed the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality”. The law was widely condemned by various governments, NGOs, and human rights groups. Even the conservative American firebrand, Ted Cruz, condemned it as harsh and denounced it as “grotesque & an abomination”. An appeal at a Ugandan court conceded that it was unconstitutional but failed to repeal it.

In Ghana, a bill that was passed by Parliament that included making identifying as LGBTQ illegal is at the Supreme Court where a ruling is expected soon. In Peru, the government decided to label transgender people as “mentally ill”, a move that sparked intense anger amongst LGBTQ groups.

Russia, a major world player, introduced harsh penalties and expanded its law to ban “gay propaganda”. Russia reinforced its existing “gay propaganda” statute in order to establish control over public discourse and narratives about non-heterosexual relationships and identities. The set of modifications authorized by Putin included harsher sanctions for anyone promoting “non-traditional sexual relations and/or preferences,” as well as gender transition. This was seen by some as decoupling from “Western lifestyle” as Western sanctions decimated Russia’s economy further increasing its isolation from the progressive West.

In China, LGBTQ rights have been met with an unenthusiastic atmosphere. It has been said that the government has an “ambivalent,” “fickle,” and “no approval; no disapproval; no promotion” attitude toward LGBT rights. Conservatives in the government as usual oppose any move towards granting more rights to LGBTQ people. Activists are routinely harassed, not because of advocating for LGBTQ rights, but mainly due to the government repression of any form of organization that is not explicitly endorsed by the government as part of mass surveillance.

Thailand is only the third territory in Asia to adopt marriage equality, making it an outlier in a region that has been sluggish to grant LGBTQ+ rights and where members of the community frequently experience discrimination, prejudice, and even violence. The Pheu Thai party-led government, which entered power last year, had made marriage equality a top priority. In their election campaigns, a number of prominent political parties, such as the liberal Move Forward Party, pledged to advance marriage equality.

In Africa where the situation is dire, colonial-era laws and rising religious conservatism have made it hard to advance marriage equality laws. Lack of civil education among the populace has also led to the spread of misinformation when it comes to marriage equality. This has made life harder in many nations in Africa where even same-sex relations are strictly prohibited and social stigma is still rife. All is not lost though, campaigners have achieved small victories in several jurisdictions as they appeal via the legal system, case by case.

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Steve Williams
Steve Williams
Steve Williams is an award-winning freelance reporter, with a focus on narrative non-fiction stories about current affairs