Thailand Readies for Same-Sex Marriage in Wake of Papal Decision, Sparking Hope in Lao LGBTQ+ Community

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GBTQ community hold rainbow flag in the Pride Parade in Bangkok, Thailand
GBTQ community hold rainbow flag in the Pride Parade in Bangkok, Thailand. (photo: VOA)

As the Roman Catholic Church navigates varied reactions to Pope Francis’ recent approval of same-gender marriages, Thailand is on the verge of making history by advancing parliamentary measures to legalize same-sex marriage, marking a significant move in Asia with broad support.

On 21 December, the Lower House passed four marriage equality bills with a strong 360-10 majority. If these bills progress through subsequent legislative stages and receive royal assent, Thailand could become the third Asian and the first Southeast Asian country, following Nepal and Taiwan, to endorse gay marriage.

Sirawit Kanlayaboun, a member of the LGBTQ+ community in Thailand, shared his joy and optimism towards the possible change. “It will benefit a lot of us (in the community) as we will finally get properly married,” he expressed. Despite his enthusiasm, Sirawit acknowledges the potential challenges ahead, especially for those who may struggle to reconcile their beliefs with the evolving societal landscape.

While embracing this progressive change, Sirawit was still aware of possible opposition. “I don’t think that the opposition would go so far as to conduct a protest,” he added, emphasizing the simple notion that the law is merely allowing people of the same gender to get married. “It shouldn’t be that big of a deal if people could be more understanding.”

Nevertheless, Sirwait noted that he was lucky enough to have a family that supports him the way he is and respects his life path.

Thailand’s move toward same-sex marriage is unquestionably a milestone for the entire region. A step that is likely to influence its neighboring countries to embrace LGBTQ+ relations.

“Given the similarities in language, custom, and social attitude, this will surely have an impact on discussion or attitudes toward LGBTIQ rights in Laos,” said Anan Bouapa, the founder of Proud to be Us Laos, a nonprofit association that advocates for the well-being of LGBTQ+ people in Laos.

However, due to the differences in political context between the two countries, Anan believes it’s unlikely that “copying and pasting” from Thailand could be a successful move in Laos.

Nonetheless, he remained positive and shared his excitement about this new era for Thailand.

“I feel incredibly inspired and impressed by this news, as change is happening everywhere and now it is happening in our neighboring country. There are some lessons learned and best practices that we can look at in order to streamline social and economic development in our country,” Anan said.

Meanwhile, Khamphout Dalavong, better known as Angie, another member of the LGBTQ+ community in Laos, shared her enthusiasm for Thailand’s progressive stance “I am actually very happy that Thailand is getting closer to same-gender marriage,” she said. “I also wish our country would have the same sort of law.”

Angie pointed out that there are many LGBTQ+ couples in Laos who have been living with each other for years without getting married due to the lack of same-sex marriage laws in the country. “Some of them secretly held a ceremony without an official marriage license.” 

She further explained that if Thailand were to officially embrace the legalization of gay marriage, it could potentially trigger social movements in Laos, pushing for similar recognition.

Even though same-sex marriage is not legally recognized in Laos, Angie noted a significant shift in the country’s attitude toward the LGBTQ+ community. 

“Individuals who were once opposed to and somewhat anti-LGBTQ+ have become more accepting and willing to collaborate with us. I’d say that acceptance has grown by as much as 80 percent compared to the past,” she said.

Angie also mentioned that many workplaces are now actively hiring a greater number of LGBTQ+ individuals, with some companies even exclusively embracing gay individuals in their recruitment practices.

While Angie may not actively lead efforts to promote LGBTQ+ acceptance in Laos, she expressed her readiness to support those who take on this role. She affirmed, “If there’s a leader advocating for the rights of our community and they need support, I’ll be there to help them.”

As Thailand advances towards potentially legalizing same-sex marriage and the Roman Catholic Church moves in the same direction, the LGBTQ+ communities in Laos and across the world hope for a global shift towards greater acceptance and inclusivity in legally recognizing same-sex relations.