The Legislative Committee of the National Council (NC) recommended that clause 213 and 214 on unnatural sex should not be removed from the Penal Code of Bhutan.
NC was divided on whether to remove the clause or not. Half of the NC members supported the removal of the two clauses, as recommended by the National Assembly. Other members decided more discussion was required to retain it as it is without any changes or to retain it with more details and definition of unnatural sex.
Section 213 of the Penal Code states, “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.” The members of NC debated on the term “unnatural sex” and what it really means.
Gasa MP, Dorji Khandu, said the clauses 213 and 214 needs to be repealed from the Penal Code as recommended by the NA. He said the discriminatory sections on unnatural sex does not guarantee full legal protection for those who engage in homosexual activities or else replacement to these repealed clauses has to be found.
He said there is a need to redefine the term “unnatural sex”. The two clauses contradicts with the Marriage Act of Bhutan.
“Also Lesbian, Gay. Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) deserves freedom of homosexuality and the right to marriage of their choice,” said MP Dorji Khandu
An Eminent Member of NC, Phuntsho Rapten, said Bhutan must follow the international norms. Many countries are doing away with such legislations, but that alone does not give it sufficient reasons to do away with the clauses. There is a need for a lot of discussions on the matter, he said.
Some MPs felt that removing the clauses would mean a lot of other unnatural sexual activities will also be legalized. This would include Unnatural sex which means sex with animals and dead bodies.
MP’s felt there is a need to define unnatural sex as there would be many issues in the future if the clauses are removed directly.
Members of NC explored three options which are- to repeal the clauses as recommended by National Assembly, to retain as it is in the code or to repeal the clauses but define ‘unnatural sex.’ The Chairperson of the legislative committee Choining Dorji said, the last option could most likely be taken up.
Members will be discussing further on the clauses by the end of this month after which it will go to vote on 7 February.
Meanwhile, members from the LGBT community in Bhutan shared that they were extremely hopeful that NC would also repeal the two sections. “I am really shocked by this decision right now because we thought that National Council would also repeal the two sections. But, I am still hopeful that at the end there will be positive decision, unlike today,” said Tenzin, board member of Rainbow Bhutan.
Tenzin said if the Bill does not pass through the Parliament then it would attract lot of international criticisms as the international community has shown a lot of positive interests on the issue. “We have received so many messages from the international community soon after the NA proposed to repeal the sections,” Tenzin said.
Many people in the country were not aware about the clauses until it was discussed in NA said Tenzin. “If the Bill is not passed now then the people will have negative attitude towards the LGBTQ community and it will further increase the discrimination against the LGBT community, forcing many to go into hiding,” said Tenzin.