Updated 06:08 AM EST, Sun, Dec 05, 2021

Indian Supreme Court Upholds Law Declaring Gay Sex Unconstitutional

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India's Supreme Court overturned a lower court decision about a colonial-era law on Wednesday, making consensual homosexual sex acts a crime once again. 

The court upheld India's 1860 colonial British homosexuality law, which says that gay sex is "against the order of nature" and is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. The court ruled that changing the law would be left up to Parliament, not the courts, according to The Washington Post

Human rights activists in India called the decision a "major setback" to the fight against the law, which is known as "Section 377." The law was ruled unconstitutional by a Delhi High Court in 2009. That victory was seen as a landmark achievement for India's growing gay rights movement, which is often maligned in the very conservatively religious country. Many gay individuals have been forced to hide their sexual identity, and some have even been forced to marry members of the opposite sex.  

Activists were shocked and saddened by the ruling. 

"It's a black day for us," said Anjali Gopalan, the founder of the Naz Foundation, a nongovernmental organization that works on HIV/AIDS and petitioned in the original case. "I feel so exhausted right now thinking we are being set back by 100 years. . . . I think it's pathetic and sad."

The court's 2009 decision was opposed by many religious organizations. The lawyer who presented arguments in the case called gay sex "highly immoral."

"All religious communities - Muslims, Christians, Hindus - had said that this was unnatural sex," said Ejaz Maqbool, a lawyer representing religious groups. "Today, the Supreme Court held that the earlier judgment was wrong. Tomorrow, if the nation feels and if the Parliament feels this is a provision that needs to be removed from the Indian penal code, then it can."

Despite the deep-rooted opposition to homosexuality in the country, many human rights and gay activists say that since the 2009 decision, more gay, lesbian and transgendered Indians have felt more comfortable talking about their sexuality in the open. Pride parades are now held, and there is a gay radio station called Q Radio in Bangalore. 

Now, gay Indians are worried once again that they could be harassed by law enforcement, or have trouble accessing health care and other services. 

"I am shocked that I am living in a country today that wants me to go back into the closet. I am not going back into the closet," said Shaleen Rakesh, a gay rights activist. 

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