Bhutan Becomes the Latest Asian Country to Lift Ban on Gay Sex

The amendment still needs the final nod from the king of Bhutan. But the queer community is hailing the move as a victory for their legal rights.

Dec 11 2020, 10:57amSnap

The Himalayan country has been moving towards it for over a year now, but on Thursday, Dec. 10, Bhutan finally voted to decriminalise gay sex. In doing so, it joins its Asian peers such as Taiwan, India, South Korea, Thailand and Cambodia, among others in allowing the LGBTQ+ community the equal rights to love and companionship. 

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A joint sitting of both houses of Bhutan’s parliament approved a bill that sought to revoke Sections 213 and 214 of the country’s colonial penal code. Reports state that 63 out of the total 69 members of the two houses of the Bhutanese parliament voted in favour of scrapping the provision. Six members were absent during the vote. 

“Homosexuality will not be considered as unnatural sex now,” lawmaker Ugyen Wangdi, the vice-chairman of the joint panel that considered the amendment, told Reuters. The amendment still needs the final nod from the king of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk. 

The queer rights movement in Bhutan is very young. Tashi Tsering, a queer activist who is the director of Rainbow Bhutan, told VICE World News that queer Bhutanese didn’t mobilise until after 2010. The push to repeal the discriminatory laws found a stimulus last year when Bhutanese Finance Minister Namgay Tshering addressed it at the parliament. He called the sections a “stain” on the country’s reputation. In June 2019, Bhutan’s lower house voted in favour of decriminalising gay sex. 

A rainbow flag at a residence in Thimpu, Bhutan. Photo courtesy: Rainbow Bhutan

“After [last year’s vote], yesterday’s decision has been a very smooth process,” said Tsering. “There were ups and downs when the National Council and the National Assembly could not agree and consent to form a joint committee to resolve our issues, but everything turned out well.” 

The activist added that despite the stressful time from last year’s lower house vote and yesterday’s decision, the move has triggered celebrations in the community and beyond. “I haven’t stopped smiling since yesterday,” he added. “Yesterday’s decision was anticipated but it will open a lot of opportunities for not just the queer community, but for anyone who has the heart to work with us.” 

Many governments in Asian countries continue to impose draconian laws against the LGBTQ communities even though in many parts of the region, there’s a rich culture and history of queer and gender-bending rituals. In Singapore, queer people find it easier to express their sexuality but also know the laws offer no protection from discrimination. In countries like Myanmar, homosexuality is still considered “unnatural”. 

In India, where homosexuality was decriminalised in 2018, the queer community is still fighting for legal rights to marriage, adoption and surrogacy. 

On the contrary, countries such as Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand and Japan are some of the most LGBTQ-friendly countries in the world. 

Bhutan has never witnessed a pride parade, and many queer activists say they would never want to, too. “Because it’s not just the queer people who have supported us. It’s everyone, including the lawmakers. They supported us for many years,” said Tsering. 

Follow Pallavi Pundir on Twitter.

Tagged:

Asia, Homosexuality, LGBTQI, gay sex, south asia, Bhutan, worldnews

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