NC defers decision on removal of unnatural sex clause

The National Assembly had favored doing away with the discriminatory sections of the penal code last June giving hope to the LGBTIQ community, but the deliberation yesterday in the National Council (NC) yielded a different result.

Section 213 & 214 of Penal Code (Amendment) Bill of Bhutan 2019 in NC saw differing opinions among the members and even evoking giggles from the background as the issue was being deliberated. 

Elucidated in the penal code of Bhutan (2004), Section 213 criminalizes same-sex sexual activities as unnatural sex, called as “sodomy” or any other sexual conduct that is against the order of nature, while section 214 states that the offence of unnatural sex is that of petty misdemeanor.

Based on the deliberations, the house forwarded the clause back to the Committee with three options which were; first to retain the clauses as it is in the original Penal Code of Bhutan. Second, the members would go with the decision of the National Assembly (NA) of removing the clauses and finally the third option was to retain the clauses, but come up with more details like what are and are not allowed while defining unnatural sex.

Also if they opt for the second and third options, all rape clauses cited in the Penal Code should be explored and crosschecked and be applicable to all sex once it is passed. 

With the debate on the clauses over, the Committee along with all the members who raised the issue during the deliberation will discuss further. Accordingly they will submit their final proposal based on voting done. During the adoption of the clause, the voting will take place on February 7 as per the NC agenda.

NC member Phuntsho Rapten said, “Others have initiated this movement so we have to join. But we must also understand the process how they joined. For instance, if unnatural sex was abolished, how long did they take to reach that stage and I was giving an example of Indian Penal Code. It took almost 146 years for the supreme court of India to decriminalize the cause in 2018. Just because this has happened in our neighboring country does not mean a similar thing will happen in our country. We have to understand holistically the background and situation for considering this kind of amendment.”

NC members from Dagana, Thimphu, Paro, Chhukha, Haa, Lhuentse and Gasa deliberated on the issue. The session yesterday was adjourned for further deliberation.

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Namgay Tshering proposed the motion in the NA to remove sections 213 and 214 of the penal code as part of the penal code amendment bill, which received an overwhelming support last year. The amendment proposal needs to be endorsed by the National Council before being officially sent for royal assent.

Chencho Dema from Thimphu