Embracing Diversity - Bhutan Takes Huge Step Towards Decriminalising Homosexuality

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Sections 213 and 214 that criminalised ‘unnatural sex’ removed from the Penal Code of Bhutan.

PRIDE in colors — with Tshenam Jpl Chhoxin and Oogoo Sonam Dorjii in Thimphu, Bhutan. (Source: Facebook/Rainbow Bhutan: "Celebrating Diversity")

 

By Karma Chuki Namgyel The Bhutanese

During the 3rd reading of the Penal Code Amendment Bill 2019 held on 7 June 2019, Sections 213 and 214 that criminalised ‘unnatural sex’ have been removed.

The Finance Minister, Namgay Tshering brought up the need to remove the sections during the initial reading.  He subsequently gave it in writing to the Legislative Committee which agreed to remove the sections as well.

Before the introduction of the removal of the sections, Bongo Chapchha MP Tshewang Lhamo, the Chairperson of the Legislative Committee said,

“A lot of people are affected in our society because of Sections 213 and 214. We must understand that laws need to be changed as per the changing times. Everyone should have the freedom of choice. We only consider male preferring female and vis-à-vis as natural, and anything beyond that as unnatural. People must know that everyone is equal before the law irrespective of who they are. This particular Section 213 discriminates against a section of people and this is the reason why our committee has come up with a proposal to remove this section.”

Viewpoints of some of the parliamentarians

90 percent of the parliamentarians who were present during the discussion approved to remove the sections.

 

Members and supporters of the LGBTIQS community with the Finance Minister and Health Minister.

Photo: Facebook/Rainbow Bhutan: "Celebrating Diversity"

 

However, a few of the parliamentarians held their reservations on this matter. MP Kinley Wangchuk from Athang-Thedtsho said that he is not accepting the decision to remove the sections.

“Even if there is no harm, we must not look at the law based not only on the country-level, but globally. It’s also not fine if it is kept as it is. On a global level, outsiders might think there is no law at all meant for LGBT community and that they are considered as an invisible section of society, which might create a suspicion. Rather than removing the section, it’s also important that we make a clear legal rights for them first.”

Drukjegang-Tseza MP Jurmi Wangchuk also agreed with the opinions as stated by the Athang Thedtsho MP.

Panbang MP Dorji Wangdi said that while talking about unnatural sex, one should not just think about the LGBT community but also other consequences, as there are different types of unnatural sex as well.

Another MP cautioned that if what is considered as unnatural sex is removed, there are high chances that it will also be performed between male and female that might potentially cause health problems to females.

 

Source: Facebook/Rainbow Bhutan: "Celebrating Diversity"

 

“Let us not only stick to the male to male and female to female concept.”

Rainbow Bhutan welcomes the removal of Sections 213 and 214

The Director of Rainbow Bhutan, Tashi Tsheten added that this is the first step towards equality among many of the other steps that are to be taken.

“The current major historical step taken by the present government is indeed a commitment to us, Sections 213 and 214 were legal barriers to the community previously and the community is thankful to everyone who has supported them,” he said.

The Amendment Bill has to move to the National Council (NC) next where it can become law only after the NC also endorses it. This may take place in the winter session.

Bhutan is currently one of the 72 countries in the world that has legal sections that criminalises homosexuality. With this move Bhutan is a step closer to removing the sections.

Update: The National Assembly has passed the Penal Code Amendment Bill 2019 with 38 yes votes, 5 absentations and 1 voted against it on Monday, 10 June 2019.

This means that among other things, the provision removing Sections 213 and 214 which criminalises ‘unnatural sex’ and homosexuality have been formally approved by the NA.

The Bill will go to the National Council (Upper House) for the winter session in six months where it will become law once it has been passed.

 

This article first appeared in The Bhutanese and has been edited for Daily Bhutan.

 

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