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 ofÂ
campaigners and NGOs however have been calling for the rights of
lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) community to
be protected andÂ for the bills criminalizing homosexuality to be
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,"
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