The Supreme Court in India overturned a decision by a lower court on homosexuality on Wednesday, making same-sex acts that are consensual once again a criminal offense in the most populous democracy in the world.
The country’s highest court ruled that the Colonial-era law on homosexuality in India, which says that sex between two people of the same sex is against nature’s order and punishable by as many as 10 years behind bars, is constitutional.
The Judges on the high court ruled that changing the law should not be left up to the courts, but to the India Parliament.
Activists for human rights called the decision a huge setback in the more than 10-year fight against the law, which is referred to as Section 377 and ruled unconstitutional in 2009 by a High Court in Delhi.
The victory in 2009 has been considered a watershed moment for the rising gay rights movement in India, in a society that remains deeply religious and traditional, where a great number of homosexuals have felt for many years the need to hide their sexual identities and at times marry the opposite sex due to the conservative society.
Following the court’s decision, during a press conference, activists expressed discouragement and shock by the ruling of the court. Supporters of the gay right movement called the decision sad and pathetic.
The 2009 court decision was highly controversial and many religious groups including Christian, Muslim and Hindu opposed it. A government lawyer, who presented the case in front of the Supreme Court more than 21 months ago, said that gay sex was immoral, which touched off a huge firestorm.
One lawyer representing different religious groups said the Supreme Court held that the judgment earlier had been wrong and if Parliament decides the provision needs to be changed, they can remove it for the penal code in India.
Since the 2009 decision many more lesbian, gay and transgendered people in India have felt they are freer to talk and gather openly.
Colorful parades promoting pride are taking place and there is now a radio station for gay listeners in Bangalore, the high tech capital of the country.
Now, they are worried they will once against begin to be blackmailed or harassed by authorities or have problems accessing their healthcare or other needed services.