BANGKOK (THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Thailand could become the first country in South-east Asia to legalise same-sex civil partnerships, under a proposed landmark law supporters expect to be enacted by the current government.
A Justice Ministry subcommittee charged with drafting the Bill, called "Same Sex Life Partnership Registration Bill", is scheduled to convene on Friday (May 4) before the justice minister presents the final draft to the Cabinet for approval, said a source at the ministry's Rights and Liberties Protection Department (RLPD).
"The department aims to have this draft law promulgated within the term of this present government," the source said.
For proponents, the long-awaited legislation is viewed as the first important step towards legalising same-sex marriage in Thailand. Sexual diversity groups in the kingdom have long called for a law that guarantees partnerships between couples of the same sex, as existing legislation only allows marriages between people of different sexes.
In 2012, same-sex couples petitioned the Parliamentary Committee on Law, Justice and Human Rights for a law to protect same-sex unions, arguing that gender-based discrimination was considered a violation of the Constitution.
The committee later worked with the RLPD to draft a Bill for "life partnership registration" but the Bill's move to Parliament was disrupted after a military coup in 2014 ousted the government.
Nareelak Phaechaiyaphum, director of the RLPD's Division of International Human Rights, said the Bill also encountered other problems. They included the different demands of various same-sex couple groups, on top of traditional and religious beliefs against same-sex partnerships.
The latest version of the Bill focuses mainly on asset management of same-sex partners to avoid the need to amend multiple laws, she said.
People in same-sex relationships have praised the proposed legislation as new hope that their lives could be made easier even as some gender-equality advocates called for a more progressive law.
Ratthanan Prapairat, 38, said he has been with his same-sex partner for more than 20 years.
They have bought a house, run a clothing business together and have built a family life like any other heterosexual couple.
Ratthanan said he and his partner had written a will on how their assets should be managed after their death. But the new law is implemented, the couple said they will definitely register their partnership.
"It is a must-have that should have been in place years ago as it would be very helpful in protecting the rights of same-sex couples," said Ratthanan.
"Same-sex couples are no different from straight couples. We have accumulated a lot of assets and heritage together. This law will be great for us."
Vitaya Saeng-aroon, 50, said he had an issue when his partner was hospitalised as the existing law does not consider same-sex partners to be relatives.
"When my same-sex partner was in ICU earlier this year, I was not permitted to sign any document after he went into a coma. I was not his relative, even though I had been taking care of him for over a year. I had to wait for his brother from upcountry to show up," Vitaya said.
"After a week in ICU, he passed away peacefully. I did not know about his death until his brother called me," he added.
Vitaya said the law is important as a stepping stone to validate same-sex relationship. "It's not only about equality but also about humanity. Gay people need to be recognised as conventional couples in every aspect. That will bring wider understanding towards the true meaning of diversity," he said.
Gender equality advocate Naiyana Supapueng, however, voiced doubts about the new law, saying its content would decide whether or not it would drive the country towards progressiveness.
She noted that similar proposed legislation had previously been aborted. The state remains obliged to protect traditions and national security, she said.
"So, most of the time, the content of the law remains within the limits set by these rules and traditions that it doesn't guarantee the rights of the people," she said. "Like in the former draft, they did allow same sex marriage but then so many restrictions and conditions were present. It showed that the state still had a homophobic mindset."
Gay rights activist Chumaporn Taengkliang, however, said that the progress of the Same Sex Life Partnership Registration Bill was too little, too late for gender equality and same sex marriage acceptance in Thailand.
"This is not the progressive move for the LGBTIQ rights campaign, because this Bill only focuses on asset management and barely covers the other aspect of life partnership of same sex couples," Chumaporn said.
LGBTIQ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and questioning. The last group refers to an individual who is uncertain of his or her sexual orientation.
"I still do not see other rights acceptances for same sex couples, for instance the right to be a parent of children or having their own child by using assisted reproductive technology."