The Two-Way
11:50 am
Thu December 12, 2013

Indian Officials Vow Steps To Overturn Gay Sex Verdict

Originally published on Thu December 12, 2013 2:44 pm

We told you Wednesday about India's Supreme Court restoring a colonial-era ban on homosexual acts. The country's government said a day later that it would take urgent steps to overturn the ruling.

"We will have to change the law. If the Supreme Court has upheld that law, then we will certainly have to take firm steps," Law Minister Kapil Sibal told reporters Thursday. "Change has to be made fast, and any delay cannot take place."

Sibal said the government was considering at least two options: "One of the [options] ... could be to bring it to Parliament at the earliest," he said. "The other [option] could be to approach the Supreme Court or take any other route."

Sibal's comments were echoed by other government officials.

Sonia Gandhi, the head of the ruling Congress Party, who is among the most powerful political figures in the country, said Thursday she was disappointed by the Supreme Court's ruling, adding she hopes "Parliament will address the issue and uphold the constitutional guarantee of life and liberty to all citizens of India, including those directly affected by the judgment."

The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, fresh off massive wins in state elections last week, refused to comment on the ruling, but said it would "react when we see the government's proposal." The BJP is seen as a front-runner ahead of next year's national elections.

Wednesday's ruling overturned a 2009 verdict from the Delhi High Court that decriminalized homosexual acts. The lower court ruled that the colonial-era law violated the fundamental rights guaranteed by India's Constitution. Its decision was challenged by Hindu, Muslim and Christian organizations, which welcomed the Supreme Court's verdict.

The Supreme Court ruled that only Parliament could overturn the law. The 1861 British law forbids "intercourse against the order of nature." And while prosecutions under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code are rare, it is often used by police to harass gays and lesbians.

The restoration of the ban was met with outrage in the media, from gay rights activists and social media.

Pratap Bhanu Mehta, one of India's most respected commentators, said the decision "will be remembered in infamy as one of those decisions that, like Dred Scott, show how liberal democracies can sometimes give rein to a regime of oppression and discrimination under the imprimatur of law."

Sandip Roy, a senior editor at FirstPost and an NPR contributor, told NPR's Michel Martin that "in one fell sweep [the court's decision] turned the clock back" to 1861.

"It was really a slap in the face to India's own notion of its modernity," he said.

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