— As the debate on same-sex marriage continues in Western nations, including the United States, Thailand could become the first country in Asia to legalize gay marriage. Thailand is known for its liberal acceptance of sexuality, but the draft same-sex marriage law is not without controversy.
This is a traditional Thai wedding, except there is no groom. There are two brides.
This ceremony is only symbolic because Thailand, like all of Asia, does not recognize same sex marriage.
But a draft law later this year could change that and make Thailand the first Asian nation to legalize gay marriage.
Nonetheless, Arisa Thanommek and her partner Pacharee Hungsabut say they were not interested in waiting. "We...we [will] not wait. Because we [are] ready. Our family is ready," she said.
Thailand has never outlawed homosexuality and many people say the Buddhist culture promotes more acceptance of sexual differences.
But, a survey conducted last year indicates 58 percent of the Thai public still holds traditional beliefs that same-sex marriage is not natural and sets a bad example for children.
Wirat Kalayasiri is a member of the Thai parliament and deputy director of the committee drafting the same-sex law.
He says the average age of lawmakers, older than 45, has made the promotion of the law more difficult.
"There are groups that do not agree, elderly people who do not understand the feelings of those people. A second group are those with strict religious beliefs such as Roman Catholic or Islam which are quite strict on this issue," he said.
Parents watch same-sex brides Arisa Thanommek and Pacharee Hungsabut exchange rings at their ceremony in Bangkok, May 19, 2013. (Daniel Schearf/VOA)
Brides get anointed at the traditional wedding ceremony. (Daniel Schearf/VOA)
Buddhist monks bless the brides. (Daniel Schearf/VOA)
Overlooking the gift plate of cash at the traditional Thai ceremony. (Daniel Schearf/VOA)
Family and guests line up to pour water on brides' hands at the ceremony in Bangkok. (Daniel Schearf/VOA)
Same-sex brides Arisa Thanommek and Pacharee Hungsabut. (Daniel Schearf/VOA)
The debate began last year when Nathee Theerarojanapong and his boyfriend of more than two decades tried to marry, but were rejected.
He and other activists took the case to lawmakers and created a momentum they are confident could soon make history, and not only in Asia.
"We will lead America. For this issue, for sure. Your country will take quite a while. But, for us, I think…next year or maybe a few years, we will get it. I believe. One hundred percent sure," he sid.
But critics say the same-sex marriage law, as drafted, is still more separate than equal.
Although it allows most of the same legal benefits and decision-making rights as heterosexual couples, the age of consent is raised from 17 to 20 years old.
Activists also say a gender-neutral law would be more appropriate to prevent transgender people being forced into a male or female category that not everyone would agree with.