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India Supreme Court Reinstates Gay Sex Ban

The highest court in the world’s largest democracy has reinstated a criminal ban on homosexual sex following a four-year decriminalization period.

BBC reports India’s Supreme Court reversed a 2009 ruling by the Delhi High Court that decriminalized homosexual acts. The Delhi court’s decision incensed religious groups, especially Muslims and Christians, who then appealed to the Supreme Court.

In overturning the lower court’s ruling, the high court asserted that the issue was a matter for lawmakers to decide.

“It is up to parliament to legislate on this issue,” Justice GS Singhvi, the head of the two-judge high court panel in the case, declared in Wednesday’s ruling. “The legislature must consider deleting this provision from law as per the recommendations of the attorney general.”

The law in question dates back to 1860. Section 377 of the colonial-era penal code defines homosexual acts as “unnatural offenses” punishable by as many as 10 years behind bars.

Although the law is rarely enforced in the prosecution of consenting adults who engage in illicit homosexual acts, it is often invoked by police who harass gays.

According to the BBC, numerous political, social and religious groups had petitioned the high court to reinstate the gay sex ban.

The Supreme Court ruling has shocked LGBT rights advocates in India and around the world.

“It’s a black day for us,” Anjali Gopalan, executive director of the sexual health NGO Naz Foundationtold Reuters. “I feel exhausted right now, thinking that we have been set back by 100 years.”

“Such a decision was totally unexpected from the top court. It is a black day,” concurred Arvind Narrain, an attorney with the Alternative Law Forum gay rights group. “We are very angry about this regressive decision of the court,” Narrain told BBC.

“This decision is a body-blow to people’s rights to equality, privacy and dignity,” G Ananthapadmanabhan of the global human rights group Amnesty International told BBC. “It is hard not to feel let down by this judgment, which has taken India back several years in its commitment to protect basic rights.”

But many in this conservative nation of 1.24 billion people, especially members of the country’s Christian and Muslim communities, welcomed the high court’s decision.

“The Supreme Court has upheld the century-old traditions of India,” Zafaryab Jilani of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board told BBC. “The court is not suppressing any citizen, instead it is understanding the beliefs and values of the large majority of the country.”

According to the site Erasing 76 Crimes, at least 76 nations have outlawed gay sex. Five nations– Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen– have laws punishing gay sex with execution.

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