Thai lesbian couple petition court to tweak marriage law

Constitution protects citizens against discrimination, they say

According to Thai activists, disallowing same-sex couples from marrying under the conventional law has important legal implications. PHOTO: REUTERS

A lesbian couple in Thailand have filed a petition to the Constitutional Court, arguing that allowing marriage only between a man and a woman contravenes the basic law in the kingdom.

The petition submitted yesterday was drafted with assistance from the Foundation for SOGI Rights and Justice (FOR-SOGI), which hopes that the judges would help drive changes in the marriage law. SOGI stands for sexual orientation and gender identity.

"The Thai Constitution guarantees our birth rights of having a family and descendants. It also protects us citizens against discrimination of all kinds, including gender," FOR-SOGI's adviser Naiyana Supapung told The Straits Times.

"In the existing marriage registration form, your partner has to be a different sex from you. Otherwise, officials will not take your application. That is obviously unconstitutional."

According to FOR-SOGI, disallowing same-sex couples from marrying under the conventional law has important legal implications: They cannot use their spouses' welfare rights to receive medical treatments, do not benefit from life insurance payouts, and also cannot file criminal complaints on behalf of their spouses should the latter be killed or harmed.

The petition details the case of Ms Permsup Sae-ung, 49, and Ms Puangpet Hengkum, 34, who were rejected by officials in May when they tried to register their marriage.

Thailand has actually taken some tentative steps to address the issue, in the form of a draft civil partnership Bill which the Cabinet approved in principle in December last year.

The draft legislation, if passed, will give same-sex couples the right to jointly own property, inherit property from each other, and make medical decisions for each other in emergencies.

While the legislation did not make it to Parliament before the March 24 election, Thailand's bureaucracy has continued work on it in the background.

The Council of State - the government's legal advisory body - is still deliberating on the Bill after the Ministry of Justice collected feedback through public consultation earlier this year.

According to Ms Nareeluc Pairchaiyapoom, director of the international human rights law division at the ministry, the Bill may be modified to include adoption rights. It is not clear when the final version will be submitted to the new Cabinet and Parliament for approval.

Opinion within the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community has been divided.

While some see the Bill as a stepping stone for more progress in the still largely conservative Buddhist country, others argue that having a separate law for same-sex marriage lays the foundation for long-term discrimination against same-sex couples.

The most recent version of the Bill does not accord same-sex couples the right to their partners' pensions or income tax benefits, unlike heterosexual married couples. It also does not address the right to adopt children, or to have children through surrogacy arrangements.

Meanwhile, the March election produced Thailand's first ever Members of Parliament who are openly LGBT, with all four of them from the opposition Future Forward Party.

Two of them, Ms Nateepat Kunsetthasit and Ms Tanwarin Sukkhapisit, proposed setting up a House of Representatives committee on gender diversity. In August, this motion was voted down 365 to 101 in the 500-seat House.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 23, 2019, with the headline Thai lesbian couple petition court to tweak marriage law. Subscribe