The “happiest country in the world”, as it claims to be, is now a bit more so. The Parliament of Bhutan, the small Asian nation nestled between India and China, famous for measuring the national quality of life based on the Gross Internal Happiness Index (FIB), has voted in favor of amending a section of its penal code that criminalized the “Unnatural sex”. “Homosexuality will not be considered as unnatural sex from now on,” said a deputy after the vote.
Of the 69 members of the bicameral Parliament, 63 voted in favor of modifying paragraphs 213 and 214 of the text, while the remaining six abstained. The vote took place on December 10, Human Rights Day, and, in addition to being celebrated by the Bhutanese LGTB community, it received the applause of human rights organizations. “I am excited and really happy, it is a victory for the community,” said Tashi Tsheten, an LGBT activist from Bhutan.
“I believe that the fact that the law was passed on Human Rights Day makes it a crucial date for everyone in Bhutan,” Tsheten, director of the group “Rainbow Bhutan” (Bhutan’s Rainbow) told Reuters.
Bhutan’s penal code was passed in 2004, four years before it This country of 800,000 inhabitants and a Buddhist majority will hold its first elections as part of its transition from an absolutist monarchy to a constitutional democracy. Although much of the code referenced US laws, the sections on sodomy and “unnatural sex” use language very similar to that used by other South Asian countries. These texts were usually copies of the Indian penal code, in turn the work of British colonial authorities in the late 19th century.
Although the expression “unnatural sex” will remain in the Bhutanese code, it will be succeeded by a phrase that clarifies that “homosexuality between adults” does not fall within this definition, without clarifying what type of relationships do. The changes have yet to be approved by the monarch of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk, known as the “Dragon King”.
It was the father of the current sovereign, Jigme Singye Wangchuk – the fourth “Dragon King” -, who devised to measure the national quality of life based on the Gross Internal Happiness Index (FIB), which takes into account not only economic growth, but also also the conservation of local customs and care for the environment.
The desire to preserve customs has not been an obstacle for Bhutan to take steps in favor of modernity, with a king who has given a certain veneer of progress to the monarchy by eliminating traditions such as polygamy, after marrying the commoner Jetsun Pema .
Bhutan thus follows the trend of other Asian countries that in recent years have eliminated laws against homosexuality. India’s Supreme Court unanimously decided to decriminalize gay relationships between adults in 2018, thus ending a more than 150-year-old colonial law. A year later, the Nepalese authorities decided to include LGTB people in the national census for the first time to improve their access to health and education programs.
Also in 2019, Taiwan voted to legalize same-sex marriage, something unprecedented in Asia, while last July Thailand reported that it had approved a draft law to grant same-sex unions the same benefits as marriages heterosexuals. Bhutan’s decision “integrates the country into a global movement towards the recognition of equality for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals,” says Kyle Knight, from Human Rights Watch.