National Assembly takes a big step towards decriminalizing Homosexuality

NA Legislative Committee seeks to remove section 213 and 214 of Penal Code on unnatural sex which criminalizes homosexuality based on a written appeal by the Finance Minister

In what could be a historic moment for Bhutan, the Legislative Committee of the National Assembly is looking to drop section 213 and 214 of the Penal Code of Bhutan that criminalizes ‘unnatural sex’ and also prescribes a punishment for it.

A member of the Legislative Committee, on the condition of anonymity, said that the MPs in the committee are all in favour of dropping the section after a written suggestion to this effect is given by the Finance Minister, Lyonpo Namgay Tshering.

Section 213 under the Bhutan Penal Code 2004 says, ‘A defendant shall be guilty of the offence of unnatural sex, if the defendant engages in sodomy or any other sexual conduct that is against the order of nature.’

This is followed up by section 214 which says, ‘The offence of unnatural sex shall be a petty misdemeanor.’

When the Amendment Bill 2019 of the Penal Code of Bhutan was introduced on 29th May by the Chairperson of the Legislative Committee, Bongo-Chapcha MP Tshewang Lhamo, the removal of these two sections was not proposed in the bill.

However, the Finance Minister, Lyonpo Namgay Tshering during the discussions got up and said that section 213 on unnatural sex should change to keep up with the times.

At the time, it was only considered as a comment, but when the Bill was referred to the Legislative Committee, the committee decided to take the Finance Minister’s suggestion seriously even though it was not a part of the amending of eight provisions and inserting of two new sections.

With support within the committee to propose doing away with section 213 and 214, they got in touch with the Finance Minister asking him to put it in writing so that the committee can act on it and put it up as an amendment on 11th June to the National Assembly.

The Finance Minister agreed to give his suggestion in writing, making the request official, and giving the committee the ability to propose it as an amendment.

The Finance Minister confirmed to The Bhutanese that by Monday, 3rd June he would write to the committee to remove section 213.

If section 213 is removed then section 214 would also automatically be lifted.

Lyonpo said, “My primary reason is that this section is there since 2004 but it has become so redundant and has never been enforced. It is also an eyesore for international human rights bodies.”

The minister pointed out that even among donors the issue of the third gender and other issues were important.

Lyonpo said that Bhutan is known in the international community as one of the early adopters of good practices.

The Finance Minister said that he was not trying to encourage homosexuality but that a redundant law that is en eyesore for the international community should be removed from the penal code.

The minister pointed to international developments of India whose Supreme Court decriminalized homosexuality and Taiwan which is the first Asian country to allow same sex marriage.

Once the Legislative Committee presents the new amendment to the National Assembly, a vote by simple majority will decide if section 213 and 214 are removed.

After that the Bill will head to the upper house or the National Council which will deliberate on the issue and they will have a vote on the issue before the bill can become law.

The issue of gay rights and LGBTIQ rights is a major international movement and countries are often judged on their level of progressiveness by how they treat these communities.

Though Bhutan does not have any active discrimination against gays and the LGBTIQ community, such outdated legal sections can bring the country under a cloud.

Bhutan is listed as one of the 72 countries in the world that criminalizes gay sex putting it on the same list with a bunch of many unflattering and conservative countries with poor human-rights records.

Brunei recently gained international infamy for bringing in the death penalty for gay sex receiving widespread condemnation.

On the other hand, countries that have protected the rights of the Gay and LGBTIQ community have been appreciated by the international community and agencies.

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