Bhutan’s Parliament Approves Bill to Legalize Gay Sex

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Image via Getty (Representation Only)

Lawmakers in Bhutan approved on Thursday a bill that legalizes gay sex, delighting activists who have been fighting for LGBT rights in the country.

Sixty-three of the 69 members of both houses of the parliament voted in favor of amending sections 213 and 214 of the penal code, which criminalized “unnatural sex.”

The remaining six members reportedly abstained from the joint sitting.

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“Homosexuality will not be considered as unnatural sex now,” Ugyen Wangdi, vice chairperson of the joint panel, told Reuters.

The motion to repeal the sections in question was proposed by Minister of Finance Namgay Tshering. It was passed nearly unanimously in the lower house of the parliament in June 2019.

LGBT activists started demanding equality in 2015 through programs on HIV/AIDS. Two years later, Rainbow Bhutan was formed to represent the community in the Buddhist-majority country.

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“Our religion has so far never objected to the way we live our lives,” Tashi Tsheten, director of Rainbow Bhutan, told The Diplomat earlier this year. “Our gender identity and sexuality are linked to our past deeds or ‘karma’ of our previous lives. We take that as an opportunity for acceptance as we believe we do not decide our fate and our lives are often determined by our deeds. This is why our religion teaches us to accept the way we are and not judge others for who they are.”

Bhutan has a population of around 800,000. Of this number, only 316 people had identified as LGBT until last year.

The fact that the country has a policy of “gross national happiness” (GNH) may have influenced the bill’s approval. The policy, which seeks to make happiness a national goal, serves as an alternative to gross domestic product (GDP) as the indicator of economic development.

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“I think the bill being passed on Human Rights Day itself is a momentous day for everyone in Bhutan,” Tsheten told Reuters after the bill’s passage. “I believe everyone who has stood up for the LGBT+ community in Bhutan is going to celebrate today as this is our victory.”

The bill’s fate now rests in the King of Bhutan, who must approve it to become law.

Feature Image via Getty (Representation Only)

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