Bhutan Lawmakers Vote to Decriminalize Homosexuality

Lawmakers in Bhutan on Thursday voted to amend portions of the country's Penal Code that have been used to criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations.

An OutRight Action International press release says Articles 213 and 214 of the Bhutanese Penal Code "were widely interpreted as prohibiting same-sex relations." The global LGBTQ advocacy group notes 63 out of 69 members of the Bhutanese Parliament voted for an amendment that states "homosexuality between adults shall not be considered unnatural sex."

The amendment will become law once King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck signs it.

"The adopted amendment not only decriminalizes same-sex relations but by specifically mentioning homosexuality also acknowledges the existence of LGBTIQ people in Bhutan," said Aatish Gurung, a Bhutanese staffer with Women Deliver, an organization that advocates for women and girls around the world, in the OutRight Action International press release. "After years of work, this is great news for LGBTIQ people in Bhutan."

Bhutan is a small kingdom in the Himalayas that borders India and China.

Gabon in July formally decriminalized homosexuality. Sudan in the same month repealed a provision of its Penal Code that imposed the death penalty upon anyone found guilty of engaging in consensual same-sex sexual relations.

OutRight Action International in its press release notes homosexuality will remain criminalized in 66 countries once the amended Bhutanese Penal Code becomes law. Jessica Stern, the group's executive director, also notes Bhutanese lawmakers approved the amendments on International Human Rights Day, which commemorates the U.N. General Assembly's ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Dec. 10, 1948.

"For too long, the human rights of LGBTIQ people have not been recognized," said Stern. "Today, Bhutan chose to tell a different story and create a different future for itself. The decriminalization of homosexuality in Bhutan is a huge achievement. It is both a testament to the perseverance of the LGBTIQ movement in Bhutan, and a source of inspiration for LGBTIQ movements across the continent and the world where such laws are still in effect."

This article originally appeared in the Washington Blade and is made available in partnership with the National LGBT Media Association.