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Bhutan succeeds India in decriminalising homosexuality as National Assembly passes Penal Code amendment

Less than a year after its neighbour India repealed a colonial-era law which criminalised homosexuality for centuries, the kingdom of Bhutan’s National Assembly had almost unanimously passed an amendment to the nation’s Penal Code on Fri (7 Jun).

Local dailies Kuensel and The Bhutanese reported that only one parliamentarian in Bhutan’s lower house of Parliament voted against the amendment to repeal Sections 213 and 214, which criminalises “unnatural sex”, or what is widely interpreted as homosexuality, according to Reuters.

However, the amendment will require ratification by the National Council, which is Bhutan’s upper house of Parliament, before being sent for royal assent, in order for the changes to be enacted and enforced.

Director of LGBT+ activist group Rainbow Bhutan Tashi Tsheten told Reuters: “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 … This is our first journey towards equality.”

AFP reported Tashi as saying: “We are a small and marginalised community and when our rights are discussed in parliament, it makes us extremely happy.”

Finance Minister Namgay Tshering, who proposed the amendment, said that the sections criminalising homosexuality had become “a stain” on the Himalayan nation’s reputation.

“There is a high degree of acceptability of the LGBT community in our society,” AFP quoted Namgay as saying.

While LGBT+ people are generally accepted within the Bhutanese community, according to Tashi, they still face discrimination and prejudice in rural areas.

“There are lots of barriers, and our education system does not understand LGBT,” said Tashi.