Bhutan on Brink of Overturning Same-Sex Conduct Ban

A bill that would repeal parts of Bhutan’s penal code that criminalize same-sex conduct will be introduced in the upper house of Parliament this month. The lower house of Parliament voted in June 2019 to repeal two sections of the country’s 2004 criminal code, which made “unnatural sex” between consenting adults illegal. But before being sent to royal approval, the bill first needs to pass the National Council, Parliament’s upper chamber.

Tashi Tsheten, an LGBTQ activist from Bhutan. 


© Tashi Tsheten

Bhutan’s penal code includes a provision derived from British colonial authorities punishing “sexual conduct against the order of nature” with up to one year in prison. While there have been no known prosecutions under the law, provisions like this one curtail the rights and freedoms of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, subjecting their intimate lives to unwarranted scrutiny.

Too many countries in the world still have laws which criminalize same-sex conduct, giving tacit state support to discriminate against gender and sexual minorities. But recently, governments and parliaments have begun to recognize the indignity of these laws and are abolishing them.

Some countries, like India in 2018, have been compelled by court rulings to scrap anti-homosexuality laws, while others have done so through legislative reform. Recent examples include Sao Tome and Principe as well as Lesotho in 2012, Palau in 2014, the Seychelles and Nauru in 2016, and Botswana and Angola in 2019.

In Bhutan, the repeal was proposed by Finance Minister Lyonpo Namgay Tshering, who said the penal code, in place since 2004, had “become so redundant” and had never been enforced. “It is also an eyesore for international human rights bodies,” he added. Activists lauded the official’s move as a sign of greater respect for LGBT people.

Bhutan is on the brink of a significant leap forward for LGBT rights. The National Council should play its part by approving the repeal bill.