Draft marriage law hangs over Nepal’s LGBT community ahead of rights parade

As activists prepare for Nepal’s annual gay pride parade tomorrow, draft laws that would restrict their rights have cast a shadow over the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) population.

Drafts prepared in 2011 state that marriage is a union between a man and a woman and include criminal prosecution for “unnatural sex without consent”. Activists say these clauses have not been revised in the latest drafts of new civil and criminal law codes.

Sunil Babu Pant, a prominent homosexual-rights activist and former parliamentarian, said the drafts, if they became law, would curtail the rights of the country’s sexual minorities and criminalise same-sex relationships.

“The articles in the drafts are vague and the language ambiguous – they’re harmful to the LGBT community,” Pant said, referring to the 2011 draft codes that were shelved after parliament was dissolved in 2012.

This issue has surfaced at a time when a government committee is ready to submit a study on same-sex marriage.

“When it [targets] ‘unnatural sex’, it’s trying to criminalise everything else apart from heterosexual intercourse,” said Sujan Panta, lawyer for the gay-rights organisation Blue Diamond Society.

But a government official said the current draft codes were under review and dismissed the speculations as “rumours”.

“It’s under process, and we cannot comment on this matter currently,” said Tek Prasad Dhungana, spokesman for the Ministry of Law and Justice, which is responsible for drafting the new laws.

The current drafts, according to Panta, would also violate a landmark 2007 Nepal Supreme Court decision on LGBT rights, which scrapped all discriminatory laws.

In the following years Nepal championed homosexual rights – from tourism campaigns promoting the Himalayan nation as an LGBT-friendly destination to issuing citizenships acknowledging a third gender, allowing people to identify themselves other than male or female.

School curriculums now have a dedicated section on gender and sexuality; there are Nepali movies centred on same-sex relationships; and at one of Kathmandu’s busiest intersections, street murals of gay couples are prominently displayed.

But there have been setbacks lately. Last year, the government delayed the Blue Diamond Society’s operating licence amid corruption allegations, halting the organisation’s programmes.

In a statement last year, Human Rights Watch said: “Widespread harassment, including by the government, has contributed to a climate of fear among LGBT people and activists in Nepal.”

Despite awareness, acceptance is a huge challenge in Nepalese society, said Bharat Man Shrestha, LGBT human rights officer at the United Nations Development Programme Nepal.

The UN body has suggested amendments to the drafts and “is planning to conduct consultations with concerned authorities”, according to Shrestha.

For many like Laxmi Ghalan and her partner of 13 years, all they want is to be recognised – on paper and in practice. “We also want to enjoy equal rights – have a family, adopt children,” said Ghalan, president of a lesbian organisation, Mitini Nepal.

But with LGBT representation missing from the bureaucracy and the current legislature, Pant fears that the issue might be overlooked.