Bill recognising Rainbow families stuck in limbo under junta

More than three years after the first bill in Thai history to recognise the existence of same-sex couples was introduced, the Thai junta still shows no sign of passing it. Meanwhile, many LGBT activists point out that although the bill might provide greater equality, it still discriminates against LGBT people.

“I have a partner who is a woman and we have a daughter. I just hope that one day if I’m no longer around her other mom will be able to take care of her. But since the law does not protect us, we have no guarantee that she will be able to stay with her other mom,” said Matcha Phorn-In, a lesbian mother who has been raising the voice and visibility of rainbow families in Thailand in the past three years.

Thai family law is based on an outdated definition of ‘family’ and prevents LGBT families from enjoying the same rights as heterosexual couples to adopt, to have children through surrogacy, or to share property as a couple, said Matcha, the director of Sangsan Anakot Yawachon (Building the Future of Youth).

Matcha Phorn-In (left) and her family

Stuck under the junta’s jackboot

After the Thai junta in 2015 enacted the Gender Equality Act, many LGBT hoped that they could bypass the lengthy legislative process under civilian governments to push the junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly (NLA) to quickly rubber stamp a bill recognizing LGBT families. But the proposed bill remains stuck under the junta’s jackboot.

In 2013, the Department of Rights and Liberties Protection of the Ministry of Justice drafted the Civil Partnership Bill to provide same-sex couples with similar rights to married couples, including sharing property, pensions, tax status and insurance benefits.

“The bill was drafted as an alternative to directly amending the 1955 Civil and Commercial Code,” said Apichat Pongsawat, officer of the Law Reform Commission of Thailand.

“The legislation process [of the bill] has been halted since 2014 and there has been no further discussion about it,” Apichat told Prachatai, adding that the military government, who might have more conservative stand over LGBT issues, is probably more concerned about national security matters.

Discontent with the Ministry of Justice’s version of the bill is also another reason why the legislation process has been postponed. To Matcha and many other leading LGBT activists, the bill is a let-down as it still discriminates against LGBT people and does not guarantee equal rights.

Under the bill, the minimum age for civil partnerships is 20, whereas the Family Act permits heterosexual couples to marry at 17.

The bill does not allow homosexual partners to raise children. “The bill does not give same-sex couples the rights to adopt children or the right have to have children through surrogacy,” said Matcha.

All equal or nothing

On 17 May 2017, the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT), the Coalition on Democracy and SOGIE Rights (CDSR), the Togetherness for Equality and Action (TEA Group), and other rights advocacy groups issued a joint statement demanding that the Thai government stick to the principle of ‘equality before the law’ in the process of legalising same-sex marriages.

“The law for the right of LGBT people to marry should offer the same protection in accordance to the Civil and Commercial Code without partiality and offer protection for the children of LGBT people,” reads part of the group’s statement.

The group added “the legislation process should be transparent and based on a democratic process which is no less important than the outcome of the law itself. Both the private and public sectors should think of success in the long run.”

As a lesbian mother, Matcha agrees with the statement. “We should not rush through the process to pass the bill because it might not be inclusive enough to ensure equality. Once it passes it will be difficult to amend, so if it’s not written carefully enough it might contradict other laws, rendering it nearly useless, similar to the Gender Equality Act,” said the LGBT activist.   

In parallel to the Justice Ministry’s draft, the Foundation for SOGI Rights and Justice (FOR SOGI), drafted their own bill which would apply to all couples regardless of gender, unlike the Ministry of Justice version which is only for same-sex couples.

Chantalak Raksayu of FOR SOGI, however, told Prachatai that their version of the bill will not be proposed to the military government as they do not want to acknowledge the legitimacy of the junta, but they will continue to promote and campaign on the importance of the bill.  

Unlike FOR SOGIE and Matcha, Anjana Suvarnananda, head of Anjaree and a renowned LGBT rights activist, believes that issuing a separate bill to recognise same-sex marriage is in a way a form of discrimination.  

The true equality for all in marriage could be achieved by amending Article 1448 of the Civil and Commercial Code on marriage by simply replacing the phrase ‘between a man and a woman’ with individuals, so that it recognizes all kinds of families and forms of relationships, Anjana told Prachatai.

Anjana Suvarnananda, Executive Director of Anjaree.org, spoke at the FCCT in 2013 about why the revision of the Family Law codified in Civil and Commercial Law would be significant for true marriage equality. (file photo)

The LGBT activist said that Thai lawmakers claim that amendment of the Civil and Commercial Code is more difficult than issuing a separate bill. However, she pointed out that the code has already been amended several times, so it is not impossible.

Anjana added that as there are already LGBT families living without legal protection, she does not oppose the Civil Partnership Bill before Article 1448 of the Civil and Commercial Code is amended.

Both Matcha and Anjana agree that passing the bill is not enough to ensure equal rights for LGBT families, but the civil society group, public agencies, and the media also have to work together in promoting it and to foster better understanding about LGBT families.

“I do not want to lend support to the military government, so what we could do now is continue to campaign for people to understand more about the issue and talk to politicians who might be interested to work on it after the election, although we never know when the election will be held since it’s been three years,” Anjana said with a giggle.