Sri Lanka’s gay rights activists gather as they take part in a pride parade in Jaffna on June 10. A bill that seeks to replace the colonial-era law and decriminalize homosexuality was handed to President Ranil Wickremesinghe on Aug 24 (Photo: AFP)

By Quintus Colombage

Sep 6 2023

Sri Lanka’s push to decriminalize homosexuality will destabilize society and families, say critics while the Catholic hierarchy in the island nation maintains a stoic silence over the issue.

A bill that seeks to replace the colonial-era law was handed to President Ranil Wickremesinghe on Aug. 24, three months after parliamentarian Premnath C. Dolawatte introduced it as a private member’s bill. 

Sri Lanka’s rush to decriminalize homosexuality follows instructions from the UN’s Human Rights Council and what’s set out in the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, says F. E. Dias of Cultura Vitae (Culture of Life), a rights group.

“Indeed, what sane nation would sanction “gross indecency”? What sovereign state would condone unnatural carnal behavior,” Dias said in a press statement opposing the amendment.

The existing law says anyone having sexual intercourse with any man, woman, or animal “contrary to the order of nature” can be punished with ten years in prison and a fine. The amendment proposes to remove “man and women” from the clause, to allow gay and lesbian sex.

The amendment was proposed in April, two months before the UN Human Rights Commission discussed the Universal Periodic Review report from Sri Lanka on July 10.

“The wellbeing and sanity of children are threatened”

Sri Lanka, which began to experience an economic meltdown in 2019, became a bankrupt nation in 2022. The crisis continues and the country now depends on international lending to tide itself over.

“There is tremendous pressure on the government from UN agencies, international lending organizations and the Western governments to conform,” Dias said.

Governments worldwide are promoting same-sex unions under the banner of equality. In 2022, a decision by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women recognized that the existing laws violated the rights of the transgender community in Sri Lanka.

“Equality enables homosexuality’s entrance into school curricula, TV and radio stations. Under gender equality, LGBT persons will get quotas in institutional leadership to drive the transmogrification of culture,” Dias said in a statement on Aug. 30.

“The natural family founded on true marriage is being compromised. The well being and sanity of children are threatened,” it warned.

“Be undeceived. The purpose of this bill is” not to help same-sex couples, it said

“These issues are not discussed publicly in Sri Lankan society”

However, the Catholic hierarchy in the country has yet to give its views on the amendment.

A senior priest from Colombo archdiocese said the transgender law is not seriously discussed by the Church.

“It is difficult to discuss these issues” with Catholics because “these issues are not discussed publicly in Sri Lankan society and we are very much in love with families.”

The priest, who did not wish to be named, said transgender issues have never been discussed within the Sri Lankan Church.

Aruni Madhubashini, a Sunday school teacher, said the new law would affect established religions like Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Islam as they openly teach against homosexuality.

Rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, have been campaigning for an amendment saying the archaic law is being used to criminalize same-sex relations between consenting adults.

Neighboring India, also a former British colony, decriminalized same-sex relations in 2018. Last November, Singapore repealed its colonial-era sodomy law.

According to Pink News, 67 nations still criminalize private, consensual, same-sex sexual activity nearly two-thirds of them had some form of British control at one point in time, it said. – UCA News