June 16, 2019
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Bhutan's parliament triggers process to decriminalize homosexuality

 People of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) community hold a giant rainbow flag as they take part in the 'Pride Parade' held in Bhopal, India, 17 May 2017. EPA FILE/SANJEEV GUPTA

People of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) community hold a giant rainbow flag as they take part in the 'Pride Parade' held in Bhopal, India, 17 May 2017. EPA FILE/SANJEEV GUPTA

New Delhi, Jun 7 (efe-epa).- The National Assembly of Bhutan's parliament has repealed on Friday two articles of the country's Criminal Code that criminalized homosexual relations, although the decision must still be submitted to a vote in the upper chamber.

The Lower House scrapped Section 213 and 214 which had criminalized homosexual acts as "unnatural sex."

"Decriminalization is the only way in which the LGBT community can move forward, and we have been building support for this," said Tashi Tsheten of the NGO for gay rights Rainbow Bhutan. "The new government had given us a lot of hope for decriminalization and now it has fulfilled it."

After celebrating the news in front of the Parliament along with some colleagues from the association, Tsheten highlighted the efforts of the community in recent years to put an end to the articles of the Penal Code referring to sexual relations.

"Exciting News from National Assembly of Bhutan," said the LGBT Bhutan organization. "The NA Parliamentary process deliberated on the Penal code and Homosexuality is decriminalized. This will be submitted to the National Council to be formally approved," the group said in a statement.

The Penal Code Amendment Act of Bhutan 2019 contains eight clauses and until the day of its presentation before the Legislature on May 29, it did not include any change, according to the local newspaper The Bhutanese.

However, during the debate on the amendment, the Bhutanese Minister of Finance, Lyonpo Namgay Tshering, verbally proposed the withdrawal of Article 213 - which would consequently lead to the withdrawal of 214 - claiming that it had never been implemented since its entry into force in 2004.

The Legislative Committee of the Lower Chamber decided to ask the finance minister to submit an official written request to include it in the amendments to be introduced in the Congress, the newspaper said.

After the announcement, social networks were filled with messages of support and even videos of young people dressed in traditional costumes celebrating a decision that paves the way for a historic change in the remote Buddhist kingdom.

"We have high hopes but we will continue to lobby the Senate to make sure that the amendment becomes a law," Tsheten explained.

Bhutan would follow in the footsteps of neighboring India with which it has close ties and whose Supreme Court decriminalized homosexuality in Sept. by overturning a 2013 ruling that validated a 150-year-old British law that punished it with prison sentences.

The mountainous and isolated Bhutanese kingdom has in recent years embarked on a gradual process of greater openness but remains firm in its desire to avoid mass tourism and to preserve its identity.

The ruling Wangchuck dynasty enjoys great prestige in the nation and is famous for having devised the concept of "Gross National Happiness," which rests on pillars such as the conservation of local customs, care for the environment, good governance and economic growth.

The phrase gross national happiness was first coined by the fourth King of Bhutan, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, in 1972 when he declared, “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross Domestic Product.”

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