Bhutan Takes Historic Steps Towards Decriminalising Homosexuality

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63 of the total 69 members of both houses of Parliament had voted in favour of amending the code to scrap the provision. Six members were absent.

A joint sitting of both houses of Bhutan's Parliament approved a Bill on Thursday (Dec 10) to legalise same-sex relationships. This historic move makes the tiny Himalayan kingdom the latest Asian nation to take steps towards easing restrictions on homosexuality.

Sections 213 and 214 of the penal code had criminalised "unnatural sex". The law had previously stated that same-sex sexual acts are punishable by prison sentence up to a year.

Lawmaker Ugyen Wangdi, the vice-chairman of a joint panel considering the changes, said 63 of the total 69 members of both houses of Parliament had voted in favour of amending the code to scrap the provision. Six members were absent.

The amendment is currently pending approval by the King of Bhutan to become a law. 

The Himalayan country has been moving towards it for over a year now. In June last year, the lower house overwhelmingly voted to repeal Sections 213 and 214 of the Bhutan Penal Code. The push to repeal the discriminatory laws was brought up last year when Bhutanese Finance Minister Namgay Tshering addressed it at the parliament.

Tashi Tsheten, director of LGBTQ+ group, Rainbow Bhutan and a queer activist said he was "thrilled and really happy" over the parliamentary move, calling it a "victory" for the LGBTQ+ community.

"I think the Bill being passed on Human Rights Day itself is a momentous day for everyone in Bhutan," Tsheten told Reuters.

Jessica Stern, executive director of the activist group OutRight Action International, said in a statement that the vote in Bhutan was a “huge achievement". 

“For too long, the human rights of LGBTIQ people have not been recognised. Today, Bhutan chose to tell a different story and create a different future for itself,” Stern said.

“It is both a testament to the perseverance of the LGBTIQ movement in Bhutan, and a source of inspiration for LGBTIQ movements across the continent and the world where such laws are still in effect,” she said.

Once the amendment gets the nod from the King, Bhutan will be the latest country to join its Asian peers such as Taiwan, India, South Korea, Thailand and Cambodia in allowing the LGBTQ+ community the equal rights to love and companionship. 

 


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