Consensual gay sex will no longer be a criminal offence in Nicaragua under a new penal code due to come into effect on March 2008.

The surprise news was announced earlier this week by the Nicaraguan National Assembly, reports La Prensa.

Under old legislation passed in 1992, “anyone who induces, promotes, propagandises or practices sexual intercourse between persons of the same sex commits the crime of sodomy and shall incur one to three years’ imprisonment.”

This article criminalises not only gay men, lesbians and bisexual people in same-sex relationships, but is vague enough to permit the prosecution of individuals for activities such as campaigning for LGBT rights or anyone providing sexual health information or services.

Nicaragua’s new penal code removes all reference to this, reflecting changing social mores in a country which Amnesty International targeted this year for contradicting numerous provisions in international human rights law.

The vast majority of countries throughout the Americas have abolished their sodomy laws.

José Pallais, president of the Nicaraguan Parliament’s Commission of Justice and Legal Issues, said the changes marked a modernisation, placing legal rights over the state’s moral code.

He added: “We are not creating a code of the Catholic Church here, we are creating a democratic code under modern principles and principles of legality.”

Abortion will remain illegal, however, after insufficient legislative support to change the law.