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Thai same-sex marriage bill passes first reading

BANGKOK, Thailand — The Thai senate passed the first reading of a bill to legalize same-sex marriage on Tuesday, taking the kingdom another step closer to becoming the first Southeast Asian country to recognize marriage equality.

Thailand has long enjoyed an international reputation for tolerance of the LGBTQ community, but activists have struggled for decades against conservative attitudes and values.

The lower house easily passed the law last week and the legislation has moved to the country's unelected senate, which is stacked with conservative appointees named by the last junta.

"The senators voted to pass the bill with 147 agreed, four against and seven abstaining," said senate deputy president Singsuk Singpai.

Earlier, senators debated the legislation which would change references to "men", "women", "husbands" and "wives" in the marriage law to gender-neutral terms.

"Now I have faith in this country, that it can eventually change," campaigner Naiyana Supapung told AFP as she watched the debate, ahead of the vote.

The legislation will now pass to a committee for further consideration. The senate cannot reject the proposed changes but can send the bill back to the lower house for further debate for 180 days.

It will come back for two more senate votes, with the next probably no earlier than July.

LGBTQ activist and a representative of the bill, Chanya Rattanathada, thanked parliament ahead of the vote.

"The world is watching, and I thank everyone for making this happen."

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin said he was "proud of our pride" after the lower house voted to approve the bill in a 399-10 landslide.

"The passing (of this law) in the parliament today is a proud moment for Thai society who will walk together towards social equality and respect differences," he wrote on social media platform X.

Across Asia, only Taiwan and Nepal recognise same-sex marriage. Last year, India's highest court deferred the decision to parliament, and Hong Kong's top court stopped just short of granting full marriage rights.

LGBTQ activists celebrated last Wednesday's vote as a significant milestone on the road to equality.

Paulie Nataya Paomephan, who won Miss Trans Thailand