Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government announced on Thursday that it supports a bill that would decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations in the country.
Foreign Affairs Minister Ali Sabry told the Daily Morning, a Sri Lankan newspaper that the government will support a private member bill initiated by an MP. “There is a private member bill initiated by Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) Government MP and attorney Premnath C. Dolawatte,” he said. He was referring to the Bill that was handed over to President Ranil Wickremesinghe by Dolawatte last year to amend the Penal Code in order to protect the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, and questioning (LGBTIQ) communities in Sri Lanka.
The government also added that same-sex marriage will not be legalized. “The government will support its position of decriminalizing same-sex relationships. We are, however, not legalizing same-sex marriages. But, we would decriminalize it. I think that there is a lot of consensus for that, so let that come to Parliament,” he said.
President Ranil Wickremesinghe during a meeting with U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power that took place last September said his government will not oppose Dolawatte’s bill.
Dolawatte’s draft Bill had been referred to the Attorney General’s (AG) Department to clarify consistency with the Constitution.
Sri Lanka’s Current Stance on Homosexuality
Currently, homosexuality can be punished by up to 10 years in prison under Sections 365 and 365A of the Sri Lankan penal code. Section 365 of the Penal Code defines “unnatural offences” as being “Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman, or animal”. An explanation is provided in that “Penetration is sufficient to constitute the carnal intercourse necessary to the offence”. If found guilty, it can carry a penalty of a maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years and a fine.
Section 365A states: “Any person who, in public or private, commits, or is a party to the commission of, or procures, or attempts to procure, the commission, by any person, or any act of gross indecency, with another person, shall be guilty of an offence.” The punishment upon conviction for the offence between adults is to be sentenced to a maximum term of imprisonment of two years and/or a fine.
During the fourth cycle of the Universal Periodic Review by the United Nations Working Group held in Geneva, Switzerland, recently, the UK, the US, Canada, and Norway had urged for the decriminalization of same-sex relationships. The US called on Sri Lanka to respect the rights of LGBTIQ persons and for steps to be taken to stop the discrimination and harassment of the said community. Last March, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women published a decision that found the criminalization laws violated the rights of Rosanna Flamer-Caldera, executive director of Equal Ground, a Sri Lankan LGBTQ and intersex rights group.
In decriminalising homosexuality it will be joining India, another British colony to have decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations in recent years. Lawmakers in Singapore also repealed their country’s colonial-era sodomy law last November. Criminalization statutes were also struck down in St. Kitts and Nevis and Antigua and Barbuda in 2022.