BANGKOK • Thailand's military government has approved a Bill legalising same-sex civil unions, The Nation reported yesterday, as part of a flurry of law-making ahead of February elections.
The government also approved separate Bills legalising medical marijuana.
Both Bills put the country ahead of most of its neighbours in legal reforms for these areas.
Under the Civil Partnership Bill, eligible couples must be at least 20 years old and one partner must have Thai nationality, The Nation reported.
The Bill is the first major step in Thailand one day becoming the first country in Asia to recognise the right to same-sex partnership.
Taiwanese lawmakers are also considering allowing partnerships for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, but voters recently rejected gay marriages in a referendum.
The current Bill will allow same-sex couples to adopt children, according to Mr Nathporn Chatusripitak, an adviser to the Prime Minister's Office. Though adoption is not specifically included in the Civil Partnership Bill, it is already covered in the country's child adoption laws, The Nation quoted Mr Nathporn as saying.
Thailand's civil code allows LGBT people to adopt children individually, but not as couples, the Financial Times reported from Bangkok yesterday.
The new Bill also refers to the current Civil and Commercial Code, which governs issues of assets and property and will work in much the same way for same-sex couples.
In terms of state welfare, the payments to government officials will also cover same-sex spouses, The Nation said.
The Bill is poised to go before the National Legislative Assembly for a final decision.
If passed, it will be announced in the Royal Gazette and take effect 120 days after.
The Bill is likely to require final approval by the new Parliament that takes power after the national election on Feb 24.
That is because the Assembly says it has a backlog of 50 Bills to be deliberated, so the new Civil Partnership Bill might not be passed in the current session, which finishes on Feb 15, a week before the general election, The Nation said.
If the Bill enters into law, it will make Thailand the first country in Asia to approve same-sex civil unions.
The Bill on medical marijuana was also passed overwhelmingly by the National Assembly.
The law allows possession of marijuana for research, agricultural, commercial, scientific and industrial purposes, but the kingdom's strict bans on recreational use or trafficking of marijuana remain in place.
South Korea became the first country in Asia to approve medical marijuana last month.
The US and EU have been urging Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to hold a national election, which has been repeatedly postponed.
"It seems like they are rushing through anything and everything to promote their popularity when they are paving the way to elections," the Financial Times quoted Dr Titipol Phakdeewanich, dean of the faculty of political science at Ubon Ratchathani University, as saying of the flood of year-end law-making by the junta.
"The intention is to send out a message to the international community and to defend themselves against accusations of not respecting human rights," he added.