Nepal’s parliament on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a new constitution that grants explicit rights to LGBT and gender-nonconforming people.
The new constitution, set to take effect on Sunday, Sept. 20, will replace an interim constitution cobbled together following the abolition of Nepal’s monarchy and its establishment as a federal democratic republic in 2008.
It contains three major articles that specifically address LGBT rights. Article 12 states that citizens may choose their preferred gender identity on their citizenship document. Nepal recognizes three genders — male, female and “other” — pursuant to a 2007 Supreme Court case that called on the government to grant rights to sexual and gender minorities.
Article 18 prohibits the state and the judiciary from discriminating against gender or sexual minorities, and allows the government to pass pro-LGBT laws that would help advance the rights of those minority groups. Article 42 provides for the inclusion of LGBT people among the groups that have a right to participate in state mechanisms — such as voting — and a right to access public services. By approving the LGBT-specific articles, Nepal becomes one of only a handful of countries where equal rights protections for sexual and gender minorities are enshrined in the country’s governing document, and cannot be easily taken away.
As written, the constitution does not define marriage, but allows Nepal to choose whether it will recognize same-sex nuptials. So far, no timeline has been set for the legalization of marriage equality.
“This is a momentous step forward for LGBT equality in Nepal,” said Ty Cobb, director of the Human Rights Campaign’s HRC Global program. “The nation’s leadership has affirmed that its LGBT citizens deserve the constitutional right to live their lives free from discrimination and fear. We congratulate LGBT Nepalis and their allies for this historic victory, and hope to see other nations across Asia and the globe take similar steps to ensure full legal equality for their LGBT citizens.”
Sunil Babu Pant, a founder of the LGBT rights group Blue Diamond Society and Asia’s first openly gay federal member of parliament, celebrated the inclusion of LGBT rights in the constitution, saying: “This victory is just the beginning of our long road towards full equality. We are ready to move beyond the discrimination, violence and exclusion of the past, and continue with even greater integrity, responsibility and dedication to contribute to the nation-building process.”
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