You can now be gay in Bhutan, the world’s happiest country

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Bhutan’s parliament has voted to decriminalise same-sex relations, amending an existing law that penalised what it deemed as “unnatural sex”. 

The amendment was approved last Thursday by 63 out of 69 lawmakers, with six abstaining from voting. The amendment now needs to be approved by Bhutan’s king to become law.

Bhutan’s decision comes after several other Asian countries have scrapped laws restricting the rights of LGBT+ people.

India removed a centuries-old colonial prohibition on gay sex in September 2018. Last month, Taiwan became the first Asian territory to legalise same-sex marriage. Many people in Asia, though, still face persecution for their sexuality.

The amendment in Bhutanese law changes two articles of the criminal code to clarify that “homosexuality between adults shall not be considered unnatural sex”. The penalty for engaging in prohibited sexual conduct is up to a year in prison.

“I haven’t stopped smiling since yesterday. I am eagerly awaiting His Majesty’s assent,” said Tashi Tsheten, a Bhutanese activist who has worked to change the law.

He said the amendment means LGBTIQ people in Bhutan will be able to lead a better and more dignified life after facing stigma and discrimination for so long.

Jessica Stern, executive director of the activist group OutRight Action International, said in a statement that the vote in Bhutan was a “huge achievement”. 

“For too long, the human rights of LGBTIQ people have not been recognised. Today, Bhutan chose to tell a different story and create a different future for itself,” Stern said.

“It is both a testament to the perseverance of the LGBTIQ movement in Bhutan, and a source of inspiration for LGBTIQ movements across the continent and the world where such laws are still in effect,” she said.

Bhutan is a tiny landlocked country with a population of 770,000 people located in the southern foothills of the Himalayan mountains, sandwiched between China to the north and India to the south.

It is famous for its “gross national happiness” index, which formulates government policy based on the perceived happiness of citizens rather than potential economic development, first held elections in 2008. Before that, it was an absolute monarchy.

Associated Press, Reuters