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Bhutan parliament votes to decriminalise homosexuality

Bhutan parliament votes to decriminalise homosexuality

In a joint sitting of the Parliament, Bhutan has condemned the act of rape and passed harsher punishments for rapists after it amended eight clauses on rape in the Penal Code of Bhutan.

However, as reported by country's major newspaper, Kuensel, one of the most debated clauses of the amended Penal Code was section 213 on the definition of "unnatural sex" as the Bhutan's Parliament went ahead and voted to decriminalise same-sex relations by amending an existing law that penalised the action.

"The National Assembly had repealed the section but National Council recommended that it should remain and altered the definition. The House passed the joint committee’s recommendation. The amended section states that a person shall be guilty of unnatural sex if the person engages in sexual conduct that is against the order of nature. The committee added an exception to the definition: “However, homosexuality between adults shall not be considered unnatural sex.”

The offence is graded as a petty misdemeanour which has an imprisonment term of one month to a year.

Last month, the National Assembly members had agreed to reconsider the issue after recommendations from the National Council not to do away with the provisions totally.

The existing provisions in the Penal Code defined unnatural sex as engagement of the defendant in sodomy or any other sexual conduct that is against the order of nature.

"I haven't stopped smiling since yesterday. I am eagerly awaiting His Majesty's assent,” news agency PTI reported Tashi Tsheten, a Bhutanese activist who has worked to change the law, as saying.

He said the amendment means LGBTIQ people in Bhutan will be able to lead a better and more dignified life after facing stigma and discrimination for so long.

Jessica Stern, executive director of the activist group OutRight Action International, said in a statement that the vote in Bhutan was a “huge achievement.”

“For too long, the human rights of LGBTIQ people have not been recognised. Today, Bhutan chose to tell a different story and create a different future for itself,” Stern said.

“It is both a testament to the perseverance of the LGBTIQ movement in Bhutan, and a source of inspiration for LGBTIQ movements across the continent and the world where such laws are still in effect,” she said..