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Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan urged to seize ‘historic opportunity’ and decriminalise gay sex

Nick Duffy January 9, 2020
Bhutan will decriminalise gay sex

Bhutan will decriminalise gay sex (Kuni Takahashi/Getty Images)

A bill decriminalising gay sex will go before the upper house of the Bhutan’s parliament this month.

The country has been urged to “seize a historic opportunity to secure equal rights for LGBTI people in the country” by ditching its law banning gay sex.

Bhutan’s archaic penal code outlaws “unnatural sex”, defined as “sodomy or any other sexual conduct that is against the order of nature”.

The lower house of parliament voted in favour of repealing the law in June 2019 – and the provisions are now set to go before the parliament’s upper house, the National Council.

If it clears the upper house, the bill will then head for royal assent from the King of Bhutan Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck.

Decriminalisation would be ‘important step for equality’.

No-one has ever been convicted under the law, but campaigners say that its existence “exacerbates discrimination and stigma” by subjecting LGBT+ people “to harassment, blackmail and violence”.

The bill will head to king of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, for royal assent if it clears the Parliament
The bill will head to king of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, for royal assent if it clears the Parliament (PEDRO UGARTE/AFP via Getty Images)

Babu Ram Pant of Amnesty International in Bhutan said: “If the amendment bill is passed by the upper house, this will be an important step in recognising that Bhutan supports the equality of all citizens regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

“For a country that prides itself on the happiness of its people, Bhutan must without any delay rid itself of laws criminalising consensual same-sex relationships.

“LGBTI people in Bhutan as well as other allies around the world look forward to welcoming this historic decision championing equality for all citizens.

“The amendment will be the first step towards removing discrimination, harassment, bullying and violence that many LGBTI people or those perceived to be LGBTI continue to face in Bhutan.”

Bhutan finance minister floated decriminalisation.

Finance minister Lyonpo Namgay Tshering first suggested the changes in 2019, before putting in a formal proposal.

Lyonpo told The Bhutanese newspaper that the anti-LGBT legislation “has become so redundant”.

“It is also an eyesore for international human rights bodies,” he said.

He noted that while in theory gay sex can be punished with up to a year in prison, in practice this has never been enforced.

More: amnesty international, bhutan, gay sex

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