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Thailand moves closer to legalising same-sex unions as parliament passes landmark bill

BANGKOK — Thailand's Lower House of Parliament on March 27 overwhelmingly approved a marriage equality Bill at the final reading, in a landmark step that moves the country closer to becoming the third territory in Asia to legalise same-sex unions.

The Bill had the support of all of Thailand's major parties and was more than a decade in the making.

It still requires approval from the Senate and endorsement from the King before it becomes law, and would take effect 120 days later.

The legislation was passed by 400 of the 415 lawmakers present, with 10 voting against it, and could see Thailand join Taiwan and Nepal in allowing same-sex unions.

"We did this for all Thai people to reduce disparity in society and start creating equality," Danuphorn Punnakanta, chairman of the parliamentary committee on the draft Bill, told lawmakers ahead of the reading.

"I want to invite you all to make history."

The passing of the Bill marks a significant step towards cementing Thailand's position as one of Asia's most liberal societies on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues, with openness and free-wheeling attitudes coexisting with traditional, conservative Buddhist values.

Thailand has long been a draw for same-sex couples, with a vibrant LGBT social scene for locals and expatriates, and targeted campaigns to attract LGBT travellers.

Rights activists have long maintained that the country's laws and institutions do not reflect changing social attitudes and still discriminate against LGBT people and same-sex couples.

The legislation passed on March 27 is the consolidation of four different draft Bills and recognises marriage between two people regardless of gender, rather than a husband and wife as previously defined.