There were shockwaves through the LGBTIQ community in Bhutan last month when the National Council Legislative Committee recommended to not repeal section 213 and 214 that criminalized homosexuality.
The main issue for NC was that removal of section 213 on Unnatural Sex and its penalty in section 214 may end up legalizing all types of unnatural sex some of which may be a crime including sex with even dead bodies.
The National Assembly in the last session had opted to repeal both the above sections after the Finance Minister Lyonpo Namgay Tshering said it criminalized homosexuality.
The NA with a majority removed the two sections and this was celebrated by the LGBTIQ community in Bhutan and also welcomed by the international LGBTIQ community as well.
It now appears that the NC Legislative Committee may have found a ‘middle path’ on the issue whereby it does not have to remove section 213 and 214 but also can better define it to ensure that the LGBTIQ community are not prosecuted.
Currently section 213 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.”
Section 214 then says, “The offence of unnatural sex will be a petty misdemeanor.”
The proposed solution in the NC Committee is to modify section 213 to say, ‘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, except for consenting adults in private.’
Though the exact wording is yet to be finalized the Committee is in favour of something on the lines of ‘except for consenting adults in private,’ which it feels would mean that willing LGBTIQ partners having sexual relations in private would not be criminalized.
This would mean that neither section 213 or 214 would have to be removed and that the community would also get protection.
The proposed modification of section 213 purposely does not mention the LGBTIQ community as it was felt that this may restrict the protection to a community and term that is constantly evolving and expanding.
The National Council saw three options being debated of which one was to keep the section as it was, another was to remove it entirely and the third option was to better define the sections.
From the deliberations in the Committee it now seems that the third option is likely to be a solution.
The last NC debate led to various online petitions asking the NC to change its stance as well as appeals from the LGBTIQ community in Bhutan to the NC.