Vagrant voices

As in many Southasian countries, sexual minorities in Sri Lanka grapple with a harsh and discriminatory law that proscribes "gross indecency", a term that is never actually defined. Up until 1995, this legislation applied to men only, but a movement to raise awareness on the need to reform the law led to it being made gender neutral. Now, women too come under the ambit of the law, and for the past 13 years, consensual sex between two women in private has been criminalised.

This type of discriminatory law was introduced in all the British colonies – save Hong Kong – and continued to remain in the statute books long after colonial rule ended. In Sri Lanka, this act has been in effect since 1883, having now enjoyed a life of 125 years. The original inspiration for this type of legislation, however, has long since dissipated. In 1967, England passed the Sexual Offences Act, which decriminalised consensual, private homosexual acts between people over the age of 21. In 2004, the United Kingdom even announced the passage of the Civil Partnership Act, and the first same-sex couple there was registered in November 2005. Though same-sex partners in the UK cannot opt to have their registration ceremony in places reserved for religious rituals, those registered under this act can now enjoy rights similar to those of heterosexual married couples. Beginning with inheritance tax, social security and pension benefits, a same-sex partner in the UK is now also able to enjoy full parental responsibility of their current partner's children, as well as responsibility for reasonable maintenance of one's partner and their children. A partner is entitled to full tenancy rights, life-insurance recognition, and will be recognised as next of kin in hospitals. There is even provision for the dissolving of such a union through a process similar to divorce.

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