In July this year I wrote hopefully that India was on the brink of decriminalising gay sex because of a High Court challenge there -” and that such a change would have implications for the entire region.
Five months later that court challenge drags on, but the pace of change in the neighbouring Himalayan nation of Nepal continues to astound.

In less than a decade the country has gone from being a Hindu absolute monarchy to a secular republican democracy, with its current Communist Prime Minister, Pushpa Kamal Dajal, waging a guerrilla war against the state before downing weapons just a year ago.

While fighting in the mountains, his Maoist rebels often treated gay Nepalis harshly, labelling homosexuality an imported capitalist vice, but as part of the ruling coalition he has quickly moderated his tone.

The poll in which the current government took power also saw the election of Nepal’s first openly gay politician, human rights activist Sunil Pant, only months after the country’s Supreme Court struck down the country’s colonial-era sodomy laws.

That ruling, which also created a third gender category in law to recognise the country’s transgendered minority, opened the door for further protections for gay Nepalis and just last week the Supreme Court ruled on the issue of GLBT rights yet again, ordering the government to enact laws to protect GLBT citizens from discrimination in both employment and their daily lives.

The judges ruled further that GLBT people must be recognised as natural persons by government authorities, and the expression of those orientations, natural as well.

More controversially though, the court has also demanded Nepali legislators extend legal recognition to same-sex couples the equal protections extended to heterosexuals.

Accordingly, the court has ordered the formation of a seven member government committee to study the varying forms of legal recognition granted to same-sex couples around the world. Marriage rights are explicitly on the table, with some form of civil union or partnerships seemingly the very least that will be offered when the committee reports back.

It seems amazing that Nepal could be set to go from criminalisation to full equality in the space of three years, but Nepalis have never been afraid to think outside the box -” Buddha was born there, and they’re the only country in the world with a non-rectangular flag.

Whether Nepal embarrasses Australia by joining South Africa to become the second developing nation to beat us to full marriage equality is entirely up to our politicians.

In the meantime, the Nepali court ruling will give added impetus to the pace of reform in neighbouring India where its High Court continues its hearings on the legal status of homosexuality. From the way judges have been dealing with hysterical testimony about physical injury from gay sex made by some religious conservatives, the signs are good there too.

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