Bhutan’s National Assembly on Friday voted to scrap the law criminalising homosexual relations. Only one member of the lower House of Parliament voted against the proposed amendments, Reuters reported.
The National Assembly scrapped Sections 213 and 214 of the penal code, which criminalised “unnatural sex”. The amendment is yet to be ratified by the upper House of Parliament, the National Council.
“The biggest advantage we have with our current government is that they have already worked with us and they are well aware of our issues,” LGBT+ activist group Rainbow Bhutan Director Tashi Tsheten told Reuters. “This is our first journey towards equality.”
MP Tshewang Lhamo had on May 29 introduced a bill in the lower house seeking to amend the country’s criminal code, The Bhutanese reported on June 1. However, the amendments did not include the scrapping of Sections 213 and 214. But Finance Minister Lyonpo Namgay Tshering said during discussions that Section 213 of the penal code should be scrapped.
According to the daily, the section reads: “A defendant shall be guilty of the offence of unnatural sex, if the defendant engages in sodomy or any other sexual conduct that is against the order of nature.” Section 214, on the other hand, describes the offence of “unnatural sex” as a “petty misdemeanour”.
The amendment bill was referred to the Legislative Committee, which asked Lyonpo to put his recommendation to scrap Section 213 in writing. Such a move would make the request official and a part of the proposed amendments. With the removal of Section 213, Section 214 automatically gets scrapped, The Bhutanese had said.
“My primary reason is that this section is there since 2004 but it has become so redundant and has never been enforced,” Lyonpo told the daily. “It is also an eyesore for international human rights bodies.”
India’s Supreme Court had in September last year struck down a colonial-era legislation which criminalised “unnatural sex”. Last month, Taiwan legalised same-sex marriage in a landmark vote that made it the first Asian country to adopt such a legislation.