Deck the halls with boughs of holly,
' Tis the season to be jolly,
Don we now our gay apparel,
Troll the ancient Yule-tide carol….
“’Tis the season to be jolly,” the familiar Yule-tide carol reminds us. It’s been a tough year, but on Christmas Day the Thai Cabinet gave us a present. So far, the gift consists of hope and a promise (made to us, remember, by politicians before an election, hem, hem). According to a bulletin flashed to the world around suppertime Christmas night:
The Thai cabinet has agreed to a proposal by the Department of Justice in which the salient parts affirm certain rights for persons of diverse sexuality, including the right to establish families, rights to personal property (finances), right to adopt a child, inheritance, and right to register as life partners. This is considered a step toward full marriage equality, a sort of cautious approach. Now the proposal is sent to the National Legislative Assembly for consideration.
The Bangkok Post explained a few hours later that the “Civil Partnership Act” will be in a queue behind more than 50 other bills to be considered before the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) adjourns on February 15, if national elections are actually to be held 7 days later as is still the plan. Whenever the Civil Partnership Act is passed by the NLA and published in the Royal Gazette, it will be the law of the land 120 days later.
Before we launch our gay celebration we should note that this is a compromise measure. Civil partnerships are a new category of law. Marriages have been worked out in countless court cases, so the rights and responsibilities of married couples and the families of which they are a part are now settled. It will take several trials for ever-cautious officials to adjust to “civil partners” as parents, land-owners, tax payers and citizens. We are supposed to have almost the same rights as married couples with regard to children; the proposed act provides for civil partners to be able to adopt children, and all the laws with regard to adoption are already established. That is a major issue and a great relief. Another relief, previously expected to be litigious, is that the bill will give civil partners the same rights as married people with regard to assets and estates.
As the Bangkok Post understands it, the proposal differs from law pertaining to married people in that civil partners will still be treated as (separate) individuals with regard to personal income tax, and some forms of state welfare. For example, if one of the partners is a government employee, welfare benefits [hospital insurance, retirement benefits, and coverage for parents] will not extend to the partner. The bill also stipulates that these partnerships must include at least one Thai national, and the individuals must be at least 20 years of age.
I believe several factors facilitated this advance here in Thailand. First, LGBTK issues have not been politically targeted in a culture war between opposing factions. Second, all kinds of gay people have long been a vaguely identifiable “presence.” Third, religious groups who object to legitimization of LGBTK rights are a nearly voiceless minority. Fourth, it is seen, at the moment, as a political advantage for the government in power to be generous. Fifth, LGBTK advocates in Thailand have chosen to coax the authoritarian regime to act (rather than to mobilize the population).
I predict that, cautious though the new act may be, the right to be parents and to have legal status will eventually have a widespread liberating effect. When this becomes law it will help a lot.
It’s been a year in which we have not had much to celebrate. Now it seems we will soon be adorned with new status. So as our favorite gay holiday, New Year’s Eve, approaches let’s proudly don our gay apparel (suggestions above from previous years) and sing,
“H A P P Y N E W Y E A R”
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.