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Bhutan Is Set to Legalize Gay Sex, Joins Growing Wave in Asia

Bhutan One Step Closer to Legalizing Same-Sex Sexual Relationships

A joint session of Bhutan’s parliament approved proposed legislation on Thursday that would, in effect, legalize same-sex sexual relations. According to Reuters, the vote was 63 in favor with zero against and six abstentions of amending Sections 213 and 214 of the country’s penal code which outlawed “unnatural sex,” the term used to describe sexual relations between consenting adults of the same sex.

“Homosexuality will not be considered as unnatural sex now,” Bhutan lawmaker Ugyen Wangdi, vice chairperson on the joint parliamentary panel considering the changes, told Reuters by phone.

“I think the bill being passed on Human Rights Day itself is a momentous day for everyone in Bhutan,” Tashi Tsheten, director of the LGBTQ+ group Rainbow Bhutan, said.

Bhutan is a landlocked Himalayan country of 800,000 people bordered to the north by China and to the south by India. It is a constitutional monarchy, and any legislation passed by parliament must by signed by King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck to become law. The signature is largely a formality.

Bhutan is the most recent Asian country taking steps to decriminalize same-sex sexual relations. Indian removed colonial-era laws criminalizing such relations in 2018. Nearby Nepal will count LGBTQ+ people in their national census next year for the first time.

“Today, Bhutan chose to tell a different story and create a different future for itself,” Jessica Stern, executive director of OutRight Action International, said in a statement. “The decriminalization of homosexuality in Bhutan is a huge achievement.”

Currently there are 68 countries where same-sex sexual relations are outlawed. Some countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen still punish such relations with the death penalty, while another 27 nations mete out punishments ranging from 10 years to life in prison.

Aatish Gurung from the local group Women Deliver Young Leader news said in a statement that the news from Bhutan was particularly encouraging.

“The adopted amendment not only decriminalizes same-sex relations, but by specifically mentioning homosexuality also acknowledges the existence of LGBTIQ people in Bhutan,” she was quoted by OutRight International in their statement. “After years of work, this is great news for LGBTIQ people in Bhutan!”

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