Last edited: July 16, 2004

Sri Lankans Seek Sodomy Repeal

PlanetOut, September 7, 2000

SUMMARY: With a month to go until national elections, a group of Sri Lankans is risking imprisonment to push for the repeal of the law that punishes homosexual acts with imprisonment.

Sri Lanka’s gay and lesbian civil rights group Companions on a Journey is urging political parties to take a stand on repeal of the nation’s sodomy law, as campaigning builds towards October 10 elections. The current law provides for up to 12 years imprisonment for homosexual acts, and the government’s last review of the 19th century law in 1995 ended with the addition of lesbian acts to the formerly male-only statute. But as Companions leader Sherman de Rose told Agence France Presse, "Article 365 of the penal code is discriminatory and gives a stigma to those who are gay. It leads to a lot of abuses of gay people in our community."

The possibility of hate violence is forcing the thousand members of Companions to keep secret the location of the group’s big fifth anniversary dance on September 8, so it’s no small thing for the group to enter the political arena. Yet Companions is seeking meetings with the ruling People’s Alliance, the leading opposition United National Party, and the Marxist third party JVP (People’s Liberation Front) toward making sodomy repeal part of the electoral campaign. There’s no doubt that the leading issue for the electorate is the ethnic violence that has long torn the nation, but de Rose told Reuters that, "This is a good opportunity for main parties to make their stand clear on the decriminalization of homosexual behavior. We don’t expect either party to endorse our cause and we are only looking to open a dialogue."

Although many of its members could be prosecuted, Companions is recognized by the government for its role in preventing AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases in the gay and lesbian community. The government provides condoms to the group for distribution as part of Companions’ services of prevention education, counseling and STD clinics.

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