A joint sitting of both houses of Bhutan’s parliament has approved a bill that will decriminalize homosexual conduct between two consenting adults. making the tiny Himalayan kingdom the latest Asian nation to take steps towards easing restrictions on same-sex relationships. A huge win for the LGBTQ+ community of Bhutan.
Before making the monumental move, Section 213 of the Penal Code of Bhutan criminalized “unnatural sex,” which it defined as when any person “engages in sodomy or any other sexual conduct that is against the order of nature.”
The crime was deemed to be a petty misdemeanor, the punishment for which could extend up to a year as per Section 214 of the Penal Code. Although there was no explicit mention of “homosexuality,” the provision of unnatural sex was widely taken to refer to homosexual conduct between two adults.
The legislation was tabled before both houses, being the National Assembly and the National Council, in a joint sitting of the bicameral legislature this year. With both houses in agreement, the nation now looks to the King of Bhutan for final approval.
Speaking to Reuters, Ugyen Wangdi, a lawmaker and chairperson for the joint panel stated, “Homosexuality will not be considered as unnatural sex now.” According to Wangdi, 63 of the total 69 members of both houses of parliament had voted in favor of amending the code to scrap the provision. Six members were absent.
Rights activist Tashi Tsheten said he was “thrilled and really happy” over the parliamentary move, calling it a “victory” for the LGBT+ community.
Tashi Tsheten expressed his excitement for the historic move, stating: “I think the bill being passed on Human Rights Day itself is a momentous day for everyone in Bhutan.”
He added: I believe everyone who has stood up for the LGBTQ+ community in Bhutan is going to celebrate today as this is our victory.”
The Kingdom of Bhutan has now joined the growing list of Asian countries that are ending or relaxing restrictions towards the LGBTQ+ community.
Neighbouring country India decriminalized “gay sex” in 2018. Nepal has also taken steps towards inclusion after it was announced that they will be counting LGBTQ+ people in their upcoming national census.