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Sunday, 14 June 2015

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A matter of orientation

On 24th March 2015, a bill presented at the United Nations budget committee to prevent same sex spouses of UN employees from receiving staff benefits was defeated, with 80 countries voting against and 40 countries voting for the bill.

Sri Lanka voted against the bill, effectively supporting the position that same sex spouses of UN employees should receive the same benefits as conventional heterosexual partners. This has drawn the ire of local political groups as homosexualityillegal in Sri Lanka under Section 365A of the Penal Code.

The National Freedom Front has called for the Foreign Minister's arrest for allowing Sri Lanka to take a pro- gay rights stand at the UN, a stance many consider progressive and in keeping with the times."Our culture does not approve of same sex marriages. Furthermore, gay and lesbian activities are banned according to the Penal Code. So, how come the Sri Lankan delegation voted for spousal benefits for gay couples at the UN?" asked the National Freedom Frontâ' s Mohammed Musamil.Penal Code Section 365A which states homosexuality is an unnatural offence and technically punishable by a jail term of up to 10 years.

The UN vote has drawn attention to a long running debate on gay rightâin Sri Lanka.

Spectrum of religious groups and political groups support the existing proscription of homosexuality.Several sections of Sri Lanka' society deny the existence of same groups. An increasing number of campaigners and NGOs however have been calling for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) community to be protected and for the bills criminalizing homosexuality to be repealed.

Sri Lanka's Human Rights Commissioner spoke in favour of protecting the rights of marginalized groups.

As a society, we are afraid to accept the LGBTQ rights because of the fear of destroying the basic structure of the family and its norms and culture. Due to this fear, we are suppressing and marginalizing a group of people which are growing day by day. Therefore it is high time to address these issues openly and find solutions without ignoring or isolating a group of people in our society,explained Dr.Sri Warna Prathiba Mahanamahewa, to the Sunday Observer. While Dr Mahanamawewa stressed the importance of the family unit in Sri Lankan culture, he made clear the need for discussion of the issue to preventthe marginalization of vulnerable groupsLeading LGBTQ rights groups welcomed the Commissioneras statement.

We are quite pleased that the Human Rights Commission finally paid attention to this issue and acting on it, as it is high time to change the mindsets of society because all over the world things are changing and LGBTQ communities are accepted in most of the countries in the world as productive citizens,"said Rosanna Flamer Caldera, Executive Director of LGBTQ rights charity Equal Ground. Though homosexuality is criminalized under the Penal Code, interestingly enough, during these 60 years of independence this law has never been used to convict anybody," she added.

There is no point of having laws on the book if they are not being used to convict anybody. However having these laws on the book, opens the LGBTQ com munity to all kinds of discrimination and harassment, especially from their families and society as it is considered that they are committing a criminal act.

Reported by Anuradha Kodagoda

 

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