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Shashi Tharoor fails to introduce bill to decriminalize gay sex

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New Delhi: Congress MP Shashi Tharoor’s bill to decriminalize gay sex could not be passed as members from ruling BJP and even his own party walked out on Friday’s Lok Sabha session.

The bill met with strong opposition and was also rejected by Law Minister Sadananda Gowda.

Only 24 lawmakers spoke in favour of the bill with a large number of lawmakers voting out the bill.

“Surprising to see such intolerance,” Mr Tharoor tweeted.

Former union minister Tharoor sought to introduce a bill to amend Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which prohibits sex “against the order of nature”.

This phrase was sought to be dropped by the proposed bill, along with legalizing consensual sex between adults, irrespective of sexuality and gender.

Lawmakers from Kerala gave the proceedings a miss due to the impending Kerala elections in a few months.

The Delhi High Court, in 2009, exempted consensual gay sex from Section 377, stating that the law went against the right to equality, privacy, and personal liberty.

However, in 2013, the Supreme Court, finding the law constitutionally valid, restored the ban and left it in the hands of the Parliament to remove or change the law.

At that time, the ruling Congress Party stood against the decision to restore the ban while the BJP supported Section 377. However, since the BJP came to power last year, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has supported calls for changing the law and ending the ban.

“When you have millions of people involved in this (gay sex) you can’t nudge them off,” said the minister at an event last month.

“When millions of people world over are having alternative sexual preferences, it is too late in the day to propound a view that they should be jailed. The Delhi High Court’s view appears more acceptable,” Jaitley commented.

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Thailand Considers Same-Sex, LGBT Couples Rights Bill

If the law passes by then, Thailand will be the first country in Asia to fully legalize country-wide same-sex unions.

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LGBT, Thailand
Thai LGBT community participates in Gay Freedom Day Parade in Bangkok, Thailand. VOA

Thailand’s government is considering a proposed Life Partnership Bill, which would guarantee same-sex couples rights similar to couples in traditional marriages, including the use of one’s spouse’s surname, property rights and the right to end the partnership.

The move is seen as a milestone in efforts to improve legal rights for those in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender, or LGBT, community, which comprises an estimated 8 percent of the population, or about 6 million people.

For hotel receptionist Patipant Chuthapun, who lives with his partner in the northern city of Chiang Mai, the proposed partnership law is a welcome one.

In the lobby of the boutique Isty hotel in the city’s urban core, the 23-year-old worker feels most at ease with his sexual identity, while he can openly greet foreign tourists, including gay and lesbian travelers.

“At first, when I worked at the hotel, I felt like I had to hide my identity because I wasn’t sure if the guests would look down at me. But they seem to be more open and accepting to the way I am,” he said.

What was more challenging to Chuthapun was telling his parents about his sexuality when he was a teenager going to school in the conservative farming community, where more than 90 percent of Thais practice the conservative Theravada Buddhism.

“We have problems with the family, and they don’t accept who we are because Thailand is not as open as Western countries,” said Chuthapun.

“Now, we have the law, and our families have heard about it and they are starting to open their hearts for us.”

Current marriage laws reflect a traditional interpretation of gender and family arrangement with reference specifically to men and women.

LGBT groups have been holding public hearings and rallies at major centers across the country, ahead of a government decision on whether to have the new civil partnership bill go before a legislative assembly this year.

The bill was first drafted in February 2013, but proceedings were sidelined a year later, after a May 2014 coup and subsequent government reshuffle.

Marriage, taiwan, LGBT
Lin Chinxuan, right, holds a reflector as Austin Haung, 32, photographs Kao Shaochun, left, and John Sugden during their pre-wedding photoshoot in Taipei, Taiwan, Nov. 11, 2018. Chinxuan and Haung are a couple and together they run Hiwow studio photographing LGBTQ couples. VOA

Now, the renewed hearings have caught the attention of many in the LGBT community, including Patawee Triwijan, a resort worker and Chuthapun’s live-in boyfriend.

“In the past when we first lived together, we had to pretend to be like others and say that we were just friends. So, when we went out in public, we didn’t dare to hold our hands to show our affection,” said Triwijan, as he monitored a popular LGBT website for updates on the proposed law.

“Things are changing now because we have more support. and we aren’t afraid to hold our hands in public,” Triwijan added with a smile.

At the Chiang Mai Rights and Liberties Protection Department, the staff is busy compiling recommendations gathered from hearings in the northern regions of Thailand.

“We opened the public hearing stage for every group, for LGBTs and for the government that has to implement this law if it is passed,” said Director General Phuchit Jaruwat.

“We discussed the challenges and limitations that this will have — if passed — and open up to opinions of what we need to make the law work best in our society.”

“Thailand wants to have the same standard of rights for the LGBT community so that all members of society have the same status.”

pride flag, LGBT
The rainbow pride flag of the LGBT community. Wikimedia Commons

Gay rights groups say the bill is a positive step but that they will continue to push, hoping that the measure is a sign of more rights to follow.

“Thailand looks a lot like a paradise for the LGBT community but in reality, we don’t have any written laws or regulations to support our community. So, we are faced with many problems in Thai society that we need to fix,” said Ratthawit Apiputthiphan, director of Mplus, an aid group for the LGBT community.

Aside from the stated benefits, the act raises the age of legal consent from 17 to 20 and does not include joint adoption or parental rights.

“For the latest same-sex marriage law, they need more adjustments and changes to make it more complete for the LGBT group,”Apiputthiphan adds.

“For example, when a partner gets sick, we can sign the documents for his treatment and for adoption, to allow us to adopt children.”

“We want to have all equal rights, the same treatment as ordinary men and women. It seems like they have this law just to label us.”

Also Read: Same-sex Marriage Referendum Gets Rejected In Taiwan

A 2014 country report that was reviewed by USAID and the United Nations Development Program, or UNDP, noted that in Thailand’s southern provinces, where followers of Islam largely congregated, attitudes toward the LGBT community were more conservative and unfavorable. The document, Being LGBT in Asia: Thailand Country Report, also said, “Legal and policy reform is seen as difficult both because lawmakers tend to be conservative and, because the constitution and country’s laws are seen as sacred.” (It noted the opinions did not reflect the official policy positions of USAID or UNDP).

Although the date for the vote is still unconfirmed, Gen. Phuchit Jaruwat, the rights and liberties protection director, said, “We hope to have the bill finalized and for a vote before the end of the year.” If the law passes by then, Thailand will be the first country in Asia to fully legalize country-wide same-sex unions. (VOA)