Sri Lanka is a little pearl in the Indian Ocean. This paradise-like island has some of the most delicious food we’ve tried in Asia, the best safaris outside of East Africa and our favourite train journeys. Sri Lanka also has beaches, stunning landscapes for trekking and kind, warmhearted people who love welcoming foreigners, straight or gay.
For such a small place, Sri Lanka offers so much that many come here for their honeymoon. Yet the sting in the tail comes when you quickly realise that the country still clings on to its anti-gay laws introduced by the British during the colonial years in the 1880s. Even though the courts have declared these laws to be unenforceable, the fact that the Sri Lankan government refuses to get rid of them is a sad sign that Sri Lanka is still very much a conservative society where you do need to tread cautiously as an LGBTQ traveller.
We explore the anti-gay laws along with other general advice for LGBTQ travellers in this comprehensive gay country guide to Sri Lanka.
LGBTQ rights in Sri Lanka
On the face of it, it’s illegal to be gay in Sri Lanka. Section 365 of the Sri Lankan Penal Code dating back to 1886 criminalises “carnal intercourse” with up to 10 years in prison and a fine.
This law dates back to the British Colonial days. Ask a local and they will enthusiastically tell you “but it no longer applies!”, which is both technically right and wrong.
On the one hand, the Sri Lankan government refuses to repeal the anti-gay laws and often makes openly homophobic statements. They have even embellished the anti-gay laws. For example, in 1995, the Sri Lankan judiciary amended Section 363 to add “gross indecency” as a crime punishable with a fine and up to 2 years in prison (section 365A) without giving any guidance as to what constitutes “gross indecency”. As such, the LGBTQ community can either be arrested for “carnal intercourse” (if caught in the act), or for the more loosely defined “gross indecency”.