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

Bhutan accepts its LGBTIQ community as NA decriminalizes Homosexuality

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

The 3rd reading of the Penal Code Amendment Bill 2019 held yesterday has removed Sections 213 and 214 that criminalized ‘unnatural sex’.

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.

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 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.”

90 percent of the parliamentarians who were present during the discussion approved to remove the sections and homosexuality was thus decriminalized.

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

He said, “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 viewpoints stated by the Athang Thedtsho MP.

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

Another MP said 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 cause health problems to females. “Let us not only stick to male to male and female to female concept.”

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

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

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

Bhutan is currently one of the 72 countries in the world that has legal sections that criminalizes 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.

This means that among other things the provision removing section 213 and 214 criminalizing ‘unnatural sex’ and homosexuality is 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 passed there.

About Karma Chuki Namgyel

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