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In a win for Thailand's LGBTQ community, lawmakers vote to legalize same-sex marriage

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

In Thailand, lawmakers have voted overwhelmingly to legalize same-sex marriage. Of 152 Thai senators in attendance on Tuesday, 130 voted to approve the bill, with some abstaining. If the measure goes into effect as expected, Thailand's government would become only the third in Asia to permit same-sex marriage. Well, Mookdapa Yangyuenpradorn has helped enact the legislation. She works with the human rights organization Fortify Rights. Thanks so much for joining us.

MOOKDAPA YANGYUENPRADORN: Thank you so much for having me here today.

KELLY: I know this has been years in the making for advocates of marriage equality in Thailand, advocates like you. What is the atmosphere like today in the LGBTQ community in Thailand?

YANGYUENPRADORN: It is a very historic moment, I would say, to be able to see something this huge and with your own eyes. I think there were LGBTQIA couples being there at the Parliament. And then when the voting happens and then when we see that it passed, then, you know, rainbow flags were waving. It's a very emotional moment for many of us because a lot of people have been campaigning for this bill for so long. Some have been there over a decade. Some even say that they wouldn't imagine of seeing this become a reality in their lifetime. So people got goosebumps. I myself got goosebumps, too, when I see the bill being passed. And there were also feeling of, you know, gratitude for activists and the people who've been fighting for this bill before us and those who are still standing with us at the moment.

KELLY: Help me understand what overall public opinion in Thailand is. I've been looking at polls. They show a majority of Thai people support this law, including the Prime Minister. I know from having traveled there Thailand promotes itself as an LGBTQ-friendly place for tourists. But it's taken a while. Has something changed to allow this to get done at this moment?

YANGYUENPRADORN: Yeah. So I think we are seeing a higher level of social acceptance and tolerance towards the LGBTQIA people. It's been a decade ago - like, eight or nine years that, you know, Thailand has been in this state with the military coup, with the government that's been, you know, oppressive in terms of rights and freedoms in so many ways. So I think when people are coming onto the streets to demand change in the nationwide protest in 2020, that kind of triggers a very big shift in the political landscape in Thailand, where, you know, the people are demanding change and that LGBTQIA rights is one of the agenda that's brought up, you know, in the mainstream political kind of landscape.

KELLY: Where does the fight go next for LGBTQ advocates in Thailand?

YANGYUENPRADORN: I would say, like, this is really a beginning of the beginning. So there are bills in line to be proposed and to be, you know, pushed into the government now, including, you know, the gender recognition bill, anti-discrimination bill and also a bill to decriminalize sex work. So now it's like the terrain has shifted, and I think people are expecting to see more and more bills, like laws, policies, and practice that's going to guarantee LGBTQIA rights and, yeah, protection and recognition, too.

KELLY: I mentioned this would make Thailand one of only three places in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage, the only country in Southeast Asia, I believe. Is your hope that this move in Thailand may influence other countries to pass similar laws?

YANGYUENPRADORN: Oh, definitely. I very much hope that this change would, you know, inspire other nations to kind of see that what we did in Thailand today is to send a message to, you know, our neighboring country and the international stage, too, that this is very much possible.

KELLY: Well, thank you so much for your time today.

YANGYUENPRADORN: Thank you so much for having me.

KELLY: That's Mookdapa Yangyuenpradorn. She's a human rights associate with Fortify Rights, and we reached her in Bangkok.

(SOUNDBITE OF AKON SONG, "CRACK ROCK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Gurjit Kaur
Gurjit Kaur is a producer for NPR's All Things Considered. A pop culture nerd, her work primarily focuses on television, film and music.
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.