Bali is considered one of the world’s most idyllic islands by travellers of every stripe. But unmarried and LGBTQ visitors to popular spots like Bali may be warned to make alternative holiday plans if proposed changes to Indonesia’s criminal code – which would criminalise ‘adultery’ (and therefore same-sex relationships) – is passed.
Revisions to the criminal code, which was written during Indonesia’s Dutch colonial era, will likely go before a vote in October after a previous delay. Deliberated over for years, the proposed changes target adultery as a 'social evil' as well as abortion and contraception. Same-sex marriage is not recognised in Indonesia, and all unmarried relationships would technically be adulterous. Of particular concern to LGBTQ travellers are articles 417, criminalising extramarital sex; 419, outlawing extramarital cohabitation; and 421, criminalising public ‘obscene acts’. The definition of ‘obscene acts’ is vague, leaving the door open for any same-sex cohabitation to become criminal with potential punishments ranging from six months to a year in prison.
The proposed changes have led Australia – which sees many of its residents travel to spots like Bali – to update its travel advice. While it hasn’t changed the level of caution advised (it remains “exercise a high degree of caution” in Indonesia, including in Bali) it now informs travellers about the potential changes to the law, noting: "the Indonesian parliament is in the process of passing a revised Criminal Code. The Code will not enter into force until two years after it has been passed. A large number of laws may change and these will also apply to foreign residents and visitors, including tourists". It notes that these may prohibit "adultery or sex outside of marriage, encompassing all same-sex sexual relations, with charges only proceeding following a complaint by a spouse, child or parent", among other new laws.
At present Bali has a very rainbow-friendly scene with a large gay and lesbian expat community, many of whom own businesses on the island. If voted into law the changes won’t come into effect until 2021, and Indonesian authorities have reassured human rights groups that they are unlikely to be applied to tourists.