In a significant move, members of the Thai legislature granted authorization on Tuesday for a bill promoting marriage equality, positioning the nation as a trailblazer within Southeast Asia for the legalization of same-sex unions.

The bill received overwhelming approval in the Thai Senate, with 130 votes in favor and 4 against, along with a few abstentions, on Tuesday afternoon. The bill had already been endorsed by the lower House of Representatives back in March. The legislation is set to become law following reviews by a Senate committee and the Constitutional Court, as well as receiving royal assent from the monarch, a mere formality widely anticipated to be granted.

In the Senate chamber after the vote, 18-year-old activist Plaifa Kyoka Shodladd expressed, “Following two decades of efforts to legalize this issue, love emerges victorious.”

The passage of the bill underscores Thailand’s reputation as a sanctuary for gay couples in the Asian region. Currently, only Taiwan and Nepal have officially recognized same-sex marriage.

While India came close to such a decision last year, the Supreme Court deferred the matter to Parliament. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has strongly opposed the legalization of gay marriage.

In several Asian nations, homosexual activities are considered criminal offenses. Indonesia criminalized extramarital relations in 2022, despite prohibiting same-sex unions. Additionally, in 2019, Brunei introduced death by stoning as punishment for gay intercourse, a sentence later retracted following widespread global condemnation.

Post the bill’s approval, supporters celebrated the landmark with flags and vibrant balloons during a Pride parade featuring a drag performance in downtown Bangkok. Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin expressed intentions to host a celebration for activists later in the day, although he was unable to attend due to a Covid infection.

Advocates like Mookdapa Yangyuenpradorn, a member of the human rights organization Fortify Rights in Southeast Asia, also urged authorities to promptly enforce the legislation once it becomes effective 120 days following endorsement by the king.

On the contrary, opponents like Senator Gen. Worapong Sanga-Nate argued that the legalization of same-sex marriage would erode family values and result in administrative difficulties within the Ministry of Interior.

The bill in Thailand, amending the Civil and Commercial Code, defines marriage as a bond between two individuals aged 18 and above without specifying gender. It also grants the same rights to L.G.B.T.Q. couples to adopt children, receive tax benefits, inherit assets, and provide consent for medical treatment in case of a partner’s incapacitation.

Controversy has surrounded the bill since its initial proposal over two decades ago. While Thailand exhibits openness toward gay couples, it holds conservative social views on other matters. Lawmakers, for instance, rejected a proposal in February this year to allow individuals to change gender markers on official documentation.

However, a majority of the Thai populace supports the marriage equality legislation. In a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center last year, 60% of adults in Thailand expressed support for legalizing same-sex marriage.

Reporting by Ryn Jirenuwat.