When equality in marriage is a matter of freedom

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Earlier this week, the cabinet finally rejected a marriage equality bill proposed by the Move Forward party (MFP). The doomed fate of this progressive pro-gender equality bill is not surprising under the current ultra-conservative government.

Yet the government’s rationale is rather heartbreaking.

He explained that the bill proposed by the MFP is simply redundant with the government-sponsored civil partnership bill which already cleared the first hurdle in the House in 2020. The government bill is expected to be read in Parliament in April.

While the government’s explanation was able to convince some among the general public, others such as activists and defenders of gender equality were on the contrary disappointed. The fact is that the government version still treats marital activities as those reserved for men and women, while same-sex marriage is governed by a different law – civil partnership for same-sex couples.

The law proposed by the MFP is different because it attempted to fix marriage at the foundation level by removing both men and women and making the law of marriage apply to the individual, regardless of his or her sex.

There is a lesson to be learned from the disappearance of the draft bill proposed by the MFP. Last week, an expert from the Sheikhul Islam Office – expressed concern that if the MFP’s Marriage Equality Bill is implemented in a sweeping way, young people will deny their religious beliefs and marry people of the same sex , which will lead to a “crisis of faith”, among other complications. The opinion of the Sheikhul Islam Office on the matter is vital, given that it is the main voice of the Muslim communities in Thailand. Although the bureau’s concern should be taken into consideration, the issue remains debatable.

In my opinion, there is more than one reason that has caused people to question their faith. There are a number of religious homosexuals and many heterosexual atheists and agnostics. For me, what casts doubt on religious creeds stems from the existing conflicts between teachings.

Like it or not, same-sex relationships have been around for a long time, including in Thailand’s restive southern provinces, according to research by Samak Kosem, an anthropologist at Chiang Mai University and an expert on Islamic culture.

Samak has researched and written about young people ponds in three southern provinces. Pondana Malay term means katoey in Thai and is used to refer to a homosexual person. Pondans in the southern provinces find it difficult to mingle with their religious communities, while those who cannot leave their hometowns.

Mr Samak said the term “homosexuality” is not clearly used in Islam, but is expressed in different terms and statements discouraging and prohibiting such activity. Most studies refer to Prophet Lut as he is described in the Quran warning people to desist from their “immoral behavior”.

When the MFP bill was considered in parliament in early February, some Muslim MPs, such as those from the Prachachart party, suggested that the same-sex provision should not apply to Muslims as it is contrary to their belief of long-standing, which attributes the definition of husband and wife to man and woman.

But it is impossible to ignore the reality that there are always people with different sex and sexual preferences in every religion.

Some might say that the constitution guarantees freedom of religious practice and any law that goes against this cannot be enforced, but the problem is that the right to marry is only granted to male and female worshipers . It is therefore contradictory that the charter endorses the kind of religious freedom that does not really exist.

I understand the concern about the crisis of faith, but every religious group should address the issue internally because if followers are marginalized within their religion, it raises the question of their degree of inclusion. In fact, it points to the growth of atheism and agnosticism.

However, the principle of divine origin will not decline easily and tends to strengthen in the political sphere. The Constitutional Court’s November ruling clarifies that marriage is when a man and a woman agree to live together for the purpose of reproduction, and those whose gender defies nature cannot be treated as equals with a man and a woman.

In my view, religious opposition to marriage equality is a good example for promoting secularization. No religious group should interfere in politics and vice versa. Undermining excessive religious power will help promote freedom, democracy and human rights and thus ensure that believers can practice their religion without discrimination.

Moral acts should not be based on subjection to rules but on individual freedom and reason.

Thana Boonlert

Bangkok Post Columnist

Thana Boonlert is a life editor and columnist at the Bangkok Post.

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