Bhutan’s parliament adopted the Penal Code (Amendment) Bill of 2019 on Thursday, decriminalizing homosexual conduct between two consenting adults. The legislation was tabled before both houses, being the National Assembly and the National Council, in a joint sitting of the bicameral legislature this year.
Section 213 of the Penal Code of Bhutan criminalized “unnatural sex,” which it defined as when any person “engages in sodomy or any other sexual conduct that is against the order of nature.” The crime was deemed to be a petty misdemeanor, the punishment for which could extend up to a year as per Section 214 of the Penal Code. Although there was no explicit mention of “homosexuality,” the provision of unnatural sex was widely taken to refer to homosexual conduct between two adults.
The National Assembly had repealed both the provisions earlier last year; however, the National Council voted for retention so as to prevent other forms of unnatural sexual conduct, such as bestiality. Amidst growing confusion surrounding the definition of “unnatural sex,” the bill was tabled for a joint sitting this year. After recommendations from the Joint Committee, “homosexuality” has now been explicitly excluded from the definition of “unnatural sex” through an exception clause, while the provision of “unnatural sex” still remains in the Penal Code (making acts which are considered against the nature punishable).
This was one of the 24 disputed clauses which were pending joint consideration of both the houses. The bill has been passed with an absolute majority, with 63 of 69 present and voting, voting in favor of the amendment to the Penal Code. The law is now short of a veto by the Bhutanese king.
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