Gay Sex Is Still Banned in India Thanks to a Victorian-Era British Law

How It Works
Dec. 12 2013 11:12 AM

A Bad Week for Global Gay Rights 

Indian gay rights activists take protest against the Supreme Court ruling reinstating a ban on gay sex in New Delhi on Dec. 11, 2013.

Photo by Manan Vatsyayana/AFP/Getty Images

All in all, it’s been a fairly grim week for gay rights around the world, starting with Vladimir Putin’s decision to name a notoriously ant-LGBT official to run the country’s new state news agency.

Joshua Keating Joshua Keating

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

The top court of Australia has struck down the recent legalization of gay marriage in the country’s capital, Canberra, annulling the marriages of 27 couples in the process. The legislation had actually had larger implications as it allowed nonresidents of the city to get married in the capital as well. The court ruled that only Parliament has the power to decide who can get married. Polls show the majority of Australians support same-sex marriage, but a bill legalizing was voted down last year. Parliament also passed a law defining marriage as between a man and a woman in 2004.*


Meanwhile in India, the country’s supreme court overturned a lower-court ruling legalizing gay sex. This means that consensual sex between same-sex adults can once again be punished by a 10-year prison term. As the Wall Street Journal reports, India’s ban on gay sex in a law that predates the country’s independence:

The colonial-era law at the heart of the decision Wednesday has existed since 1860. It prohibits people from engaging in "carnal acts against the order of nature," and was used against same-sex couples.
Many Commonwealth countries inherited the Victorian-era law during British colonial rule. Countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, among others, still have some version of it on their statute books, said Meenakshi Ganguly, the South Asia director of the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch.
Australia, Fiji, Hong Kong and New Zealand are among Commonwealth countries that had the law, but abolished it, she said. 

Britain decriminalized consensual gay sex in 1967, but the ban remains on the books in many countries that inheritied the British legal system. A study published last year in the journal Comparative Politics found that 60 percent of the countries where homosexual activity is prohibited by law have common-law systems based on the British model.

*Correction, Dec. 12, 2013: This post originally stated that the Australian Parliament prohibited same-sex marriage in 2002.


Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

It’s Not Easy for Me, but I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Divestment Is Fine but Mostly Symbolic. There’s a Better Way for Universities to Fight Climate Change.

Subprime Loans Are Back

And believe it or not, that’s a good thing.

It Is Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

Why Are Lighter-Skinned Latinos and Asians More Likely to Vote Republican?

How Ted Cruz and Scott Brown Misunderstand What It Means to Be an American Citizen

  News & Politics
Sept. 22 2014 6:30 PM What Does It Mean to Be an American? Ted Cruz and Scott Brown think it’s about ideology. It’s really about culture.
Business Insider
Sept. 23 2014 10:03 AM Watch Steve Jobs Tell Michael Dell, "We're Coming After You"
The Vault
Sept. 23 2014 10:24 AM How Bad Are Your Drinking Habits? An 18th-Century Temperance Thermometer Has the Verdict
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 7:43 PM Emma Watson Threatened With Nude Photo Leak for Speaking Out About Women's Equality
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 9:42 AM Listen to the Surprising New Single From Kendrick Lamar
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 6:27 PM Should We All Be Learning How to Type in Virtual Reality?
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 23 2014 7:00 AM I Stand With Emma Watson
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.