by Ajith Perakum Jayasinghe

The term “judicial cannibalism” is more metaphorical than a formal legal term. It combines the word “judicial,” related to the court system, with “cannibalism,” which means eating one’s own kind. This term can be translated as “judicial self-destruction,” suggesting that the judiciary is undermining its own principles and precedents.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe used this term in the context of the Supreme Court’s disregard for past decisions and legal principles related to women’s rights and gender equality. In a parliamentary address last Tuesday, President Wickremesinghe stated, “The Supreme Court has ignored the provisions outlined in the Gender Equality Bill. Decisions made by a panel of ten judges regarding women’s rights have been nullified, leading to a form of judicial self-destruction. The Chief Justice has also overlooked an amendment to the Penal Code.” This was reported by the Daily Mirror.

The objective of the Gender Equality Bill is to legally ensure equal opportunities for all individuals in Sri Lanka, irrespective of gender. The President proposed forming a parliamentary select committee to review the Supreme Court’s decision and suggested that a majority of the committee members should be female parliamentarians.

Some provisions of the Gender Equality Bill were deemed unconstitutional and culturally inappropriate by a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court. The bench ruled that recognizing same-sex marriages and various gender identities requires a two-thirds majority in Parliament and a referendum.

Chief Justice P. Padman Surasena, with the support of two other judges, stated, “If this bill becomes law, any interested party could legally seek recognition for same-sex marriages, which is not accommodated by our constitution or expected by our culture.” Consequently, Sri Lanka does not recognize gender identities beyond male and female.

The decision highlights significant cultural and moral considerations regarding the decriminalization of homosexuality in Sri Lanka. Petitioners against the bill argued that allowing same-sex marriages would harm the cultural sensitivities of various communities. The Supreme Court’s decision has sparked a polarized debate about the future of gender equality and LGBTQ+ rights in the country.

What is LGBTIQ+?

– **Lesbian:** A term for women attracted to other women.
– **Gay:** A term for men attracted to other men.
– **Bisexual:** A term for individuals attracted to both men and women.
– **Transgender:** A term for people whose gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth.
– **Intersex:** A term for individuals born with physical sex characteristics that do not fit typical definitions of male or female.
– **Queer:** A general term that can describe anyone who is not heterosexual or cisgender.

The “+” in LGBTIQ+ represents individuals who do not fit neatly into the specified categories.

Repeal of Sections 365/365A of the Penal Code

Previously, sections 365/365A of the Penal Code criminalized homosexuality, with penalties of up to ten years in prison. These laws date back to 1883 and were used to prosecute individuals based on their sexual orientation. The government has proposed amendments to repeal these sections, led by MP Premnath C. Dolawatta’s private member’s bill.

Under the existing law, “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” is a crime, punishable by up to ten years in prison. The new amendment removes references to “any male or female,” focusing on acts involving animals instead. Section 365A will be entirely repealed.

During the presentation of the 2024 budget, President Wickremesinghe proposed gender-responsive budgeting and related legislation to empower women. He announced plans to introduce laws to support women’s empowerment.

The complexities of gender identities and judicial responses in Sri Lanka present significant challenges, but they also offer an opportunity for profound societal change. By taking action and advocating for justice and equality, we can help create a society where everyone is recognised and valued for who they are. The time to act is now—stand up, speak out, and support the fight for equality in Sri Lanka.

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