Thailand has approved a draft bill that will legalise same-sex civil partnerships and give greater recognition to same-sex couples.

The Civil Partnership Bill avoids the term “marriage” but will allow same-sex couples the right to jointly own property, adopt children and pass on inheritances. It would be a first in any Southeast Asian country if passed into law.

Ratchada Dhnadirek, a deputy government spokesperson, said the bill is a “milestone for Thai society in promoting equality among people of all genders” and “strengthens the families of people with sexual diversity”.

Under the bill, civil partners are defined as couples with the same sex. To register, they must be at least 17-years-old and one of them must be a Thai citizen – meaning foreign same-sex couples are exempt and won’t qualify.

Those under the age of 17 will need to get permission from their parents or legal guardian.

While the bill is arguably a monumental leap forward for LGBTQ+ rights in Thailand, it has been criticised by social activists as a cop out for labelling same-sex unions as “civil partnerships” rather than “marriage”.

“The civil partnerships bill isn’t a milestone for gender equality in Thailand, instead it’s an obstacle to reach marriage for all,” said Tattep Ruangprapaikitseree, LGBTQ activist and Secretary-General of progressive youth organization Free Youth.

“Why not just call everyone, both traditional and non-traditional couples, as married partners, why does a special term have to be assigned to LGBT as ‘civil partner’. This is another form of discrimination in disguise.

“We don’t want anything special we just want to be treated like others.”

Pauline Ngarmpring, who is trans and who ran for prime minister last year, said: “The foundation of the same-sex union law draft isn’t based on equality. But it’s better than nothing. This is not a fight that can be finished in our generation.”

If The Civil Partnership Bill is approved by parliament, it would make Thailand only the second place in Asia to recognise same-sex unions after Taiwan legalised same-sex marriage last year.