The military junta ruling Buddhist-majority Thailand has approved a bill to ban gay people from becoming monks and to penalize them with jail terms.
Article 40 under Section 8 of the bill on penalties stipulates that monks who perform, knowingly or unwittingly, an ordination ceremony for persons with “deviant sexual behaviour” can be punished with a prison term of no more than one month.
Article 41 states that monks who are “sexually deviant” can be imprisoned for up to one month if they cause “harm and disgrace” to Buddhism.
The bill is part of a proposed law to jail people who propagate an incorrect version of Theravada Buddhism, the most prominent Buddhist sect followed by majority Thais.
It will allow the Sangha Supreme Council (the governing body of Thai Buddhist clergy) and the government to punish anyone deemed to threaten a narrowly defined version of Buddhism promoted by the authorities, prachatai.com reported.
The bill propagated since 2006 was until now rejected under previous military and civilian governments. It had been recommended that the bill merely be included in monastic rules and not applied to the general public.
In August 2014, the ruling junta, which sees Buddhism as a part of the Thai identity, approved the bill and is now being prepared for submission to the National Legislative Assembly, reportsprachatai.com.
“It seems as if people who took part in writing this bill hold prejudiced views against people with alternative sexes and genders,” Venerable Shine Waradhammo, an undergraduate student monk at the International College of Maha Chulalongkorn Rajavidyalaya, a Buddhist university in Bangkok, told prachatai.com.
“In order to thrive, religion must always be adaptable to societies to allow people to understand its practices and teachings, including, making itself open for debate and discussion,” he said.
In Thailand, where homosexuality is generally accepted, Buddhist monks remain silent about sexual orientation. Buddhist monastic rules only stipulate that monks must be celibate.
Buddhism is not the state religion even though more than 95 percent of Thailand’s 67 million people are Buddhists and Thailand has a strong Southeast Asian tradition that ties the legitimacy of the state to its protection and support for Buddhism. Buddhist institutions and clergy are guaranteed special benefits by the government.