India Reverses Course, Reinstates Ban on Gay Sex

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Dec. 11 2013 6:14 PM

India Reverses Course, Reinstates Ban on Gay Sex

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An Indian gay-rights activist shouts slogans during a protest against the Supreme Court ruling reinstating a ban on gay sex.

Photo by Manjunath Kiran/AFP/Getty Images

In a surprising reversal, India’s Supreme Court  reinstated on Wednesday a ban on gay sex in the country that dates back to over 150 years. The move reverses a 2009 ruling by a lower court that decriminalized consensual homosexual sex. Four years after that ruling, following petitions by conservative groups in the country, India’s top court said that the colonial era law was still constitutionally valid and any change to the law would have to go through parliament.

The law, section 377 of the penal code, holds a same-sex relationship to be an “unnatural offense” punishable by a 10-year prison sentence. According to the BBC, “the law has rarely - if ever - been used to prosecute anyone for consensual sex, it has often been used by the police to harass homosexuals.”

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The move came as a shock to rights activists around the world, Reuters reports, who “expected the court simply to rubber-stamp the earlier ruling” after a recent string progressive rulings from the court. Here’s more on potential next steps regarding the law within the Indian government via Reuters:

India's Law Minister Kapil Sibal said the government could raise the matter in parliament. The government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was seen to broadly support the 2009 ruling, and some ministers said they opposed Wednesday's rollback. But it seems unlikely the government will risk taking a stand on the issue in the short term. General elections are due by next May and the socially conservative Hindu nationalist opposition is already gathering momentum.

Elliot Hannon is a writer in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter.

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