RANGOON — A lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender (LGBT) rights group is calling for the Burma government to abolish an article in its 19th century penal code that outlaws same-sex relationships, activists said.
The penal code, which was first brought in under British colonial rule, still includes Article 377, under which “intercourse against the order of nature” carries a prison sentence of up to 10 years. The article is used to punish same-sex couples and effectively rules out same-sex couples living openly in Burma.
The Rangoon-based LBGT Rights Network—an alliance of 19 civil society organizations—said it is going to lobby the government to scrap the article, which it says is discriminatory.
“We do not have equal rights here. We need it,” said Tin Ko Ko, a member of the LGBT Rights Network.
Aung Myo Min, an activist from the Human Rights Education Institute of Burma (HREIB), argued that sex between two people was not unnatural, and rejected gay sex being grouped with acts like people having sex with animals.
“All people have their own rights. They have right to get married to whoever they want,” he said. “Men can marry men, women can marry women. This is their private right.”
Research by HREIB, published in January, found that LGBT people living in Burma are regularly victimized by authorities or discriminated against by officials or other members of the public. Following a police crackdown on LGBT people in Mandalay in July, some of the 12 detained alleged that they were subjected to humiliating sexual abuse at the police station.
Although the law in Burma does not allow people to marry others of the same sex, a man and a transgender woman in Moulmein, Mon State, held a marriage ceremony on Nov. 18, according to a report in the Burmese-language Myanmar Post this week. But the act drew harsh criticism and threats in the local community and even from authorities.
A statement issued by the LGBT Rights Network last week condemned police in Moulmein for infringing on the couple’s rights, pointing to Article 347 of Burma 2008 Constitution, which guarantees that all citizens’ security is protected.
Parliamentarian Thein Nyunt, from the New National Democracy Party, said same-sex marriage was not acceptable to Burmese culture.
“To talk about human rights, it’s OK to have these rights. But, for me, I do not support having same-sex marriage, because it is not suitable of our Burmese culture.”
Despite the threat of the law, and conservative attitudes among many in Burma, the gay community has started edging toward visibility since Burma began opening up after political and economic reforms beginning two years ago.
In 2011, the previously Thailand-based TV show, “Colours Rainbow TV”—which airs once a month online and focuses on LGBT issues—moved its production to Rangoon.