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India’s Supreme Court Reinstates Gay Sex Ban
December 11, 2013
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In 1861, the British passed a law in India banning "carnal intercourse against the order of nature with man, woman or animal” — a prohibition that has widely been interpreted to include homosexual sex. That law, which was briefly overturned in 2009 by the Delhi High Court, is now back in force in the country after the Indian Supreme Court ruled today that only Parliament has the power to change the law, the New York Times reports.

“It’s a black day for us,” Anjali Gopalan, the executive director of a Delhi-based NGO called the Naz Foundation, told Reuters. “I feel exhausted right now, thinking that we have been set back by 100 years.” The Foundation had been behind the court challenge that saw the ban temporarily overturned in 2009.

According to the Times, Indians on both sides of the debate agree there's little chance that Parliament will step in and change the law, especially with the conservative Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party's coalition leading the polls in advance of next year's national elections.

The ruling came as a shock to many gay-rights activists in the country, who expected that the Supreme Court would merely "rubber-stamp" the earlier ruling, Reuters reports, especially since the court had delivered notably progressive rulings in recent years on issues like child labour and prisoners' rights.

According to section 377 of the 19th-century penal code that the court upheld, a conviction on a charge of "unnatural offences" can carry a sentence of up to 10 years in prisons, in addition to fines.

"The Supreme Court has honoured the sentiments of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and those who believe in morality," said Baba Ramdev, a popular Hindu and controversial spiritual leader. "Today they are talking about men having sexual relationships with men, women with women; tomorrow they will talk of sexual relationships with animals."

Arvind Narrain, one of the lawyers representing the advocacy groups, told Reuters that the Naz Foundation and other activist groups could seek a so-called "curative petition" in an attempt to overturn the ruling, but that the chances of success are slim.

According to activists, the 2009 ruling which had temporarily overturned the ban helped protect them when they sought to organize Pride parades and marches. It also protected gay people from being fired due to their sexual orientation, they said.

Despite some recent progress on gay rights in India, like the increasingly well-attended Delhi Queer Pride Parade, Reuters reports that attitudes toward homosexuality and sex outside of marriage in general are overwhelmingly conservative in much of the country. Still, there's a long history of transgender people and eunuchs in the region, who have traditionally served a variety of social functions. Hijras, people who are typically born male and have adopted a feminine gender identity, are often called on to perform ceremonies or confer blessings, although many live on the margins of society.

Via New York Times

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