There was a symbolic wedding ceremony on Valentine’s Day Eve, last night, sponsored by M+, a gender-equality and HIV-awareness NGO here in Chiang Mai. The theme was that people who love each other and are committed to life together ought to have the right to get married. The organizers were clear that love is the criterion. They were equally clear that the law is the obstacle to full rights to get married and to have all the benefits and responsibilities that come with being a full-fledged family in Thai society.
So Kuai and Ream, First and Nick, Dew and Jang got “married” at the Latti Lanna Hotel under a crescent moon and star-spangled sky on the banks of the Ping River. The event was set up just like most weddings, with guests writing congratulatory messages in scrapbooks, taking pictures with the wedding couples, and being ushered to tables with full view of a stage where things were about to happen.
We saw a video about the loving couples’ romantic development, and then they arrived from across the river on a lovely boat. Photographers sprang into action.
Then the 3 couples were seated at a table across from the Deputy Nai Amphur (Asst. to the head of the Chiang Mai Municipal District) and signed marriage applications, just as every couple does to have their marriage registered. A registered marriage is the key to several civil rights and protections. The Deputy then explained that national law has to be changed for couples to be granted marriage certificates if they are not heterosexual on their national identity cards. Since our 3 couples did not qualify, one of them being 2 males, another being 2 females, and the third being 2 males with one transgender, applying for marriage was as far as the legal process would go. The Deputy would have to “reject” the applications on legal grounds. The ceremony demonstrated that.
But it continued, even so. The couples were provided with traditional leis and congratulated with symbolic speeches and then they symbolically filled champagne glasses, watered tulips, and cut a monstrous wedding cake with a silver sword. The congratulatory speeches were a bit more than hollow ritual, however. One was by the US Consul for Political and Economic Affairs in Chiang Mai, who underscored that marriage rights are human rights in the eyes of a large section of the community of nations, especially the USA. The second speaker (me) emphasized that in Thai society a marriage is actually constituted by the consent and blessing of the families and the community, no matter how reticent the government may be to register it. The third speaker spoke as a long-time government official working for human rights and as head of a human-rights foundation, saying that the law in Thailand and in the region is evolving and progress is being made.
There are two perspectives about the wedding last night. First, it was meant to be a wedding in which the three couples got married as fully and publicly as possible. Second, it was a “historic event” in that actual government officials participated as fully as they were able, which was more fully than anyone could remember it ever happening that way before. It was a small, satisfying step toward gender rights and equality.
It was not lost on the assembly that this was the 8th annual marriage equality and gender status event sponsored by M+ and co-sponsored by a wide variety of government and non-government entities. Pongthorn “Tor” Chanlearn, director of M+, organizes a major event every February. The most memorable was on 21 February 2009 when a gay-pride parade was sabotaged by a gang of paid political thugs with cooperation from the police. Subsequent February events have been seminars and rallies. Tor says there will be a wedding like this every February from now on.
THANKS: to Tor and his team and to Pramote for the pictures accompanying this blog.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.