In 2013, extremist religious groups in India challenged a 2009 High Court decision to decriminalise homosexuality – and to the disgust of thousands, they won.
The High Court originally quashed a part of Section 377 (punishment for unnatural sex),which criminalised consensual sexual acts between adults in private.
It found that the provision violated the fundamental rights of sexual minorities to life, liberty, equality.
But, in 2013, after hearing appeals filed by Hindu, Islamic and Christian zealots, the Supreme Court overturned the HC order terming it “legally unsustainable” and said only Parliament was empowered to change a law.
But now, according to the BBC, the Supreme Court has agreed to reconsider that judgement.
Three senior judges said the 2013 ruling would be re-examined by a larger bench of judges, in a move that has been welcomed by activists. They said that the issue was:
A matter of constitutional importance.
According to Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), a 155-year-old British colonial-era law, a same-sex relationship is an “unnatural offence”.
In deeply conservative India, homosexuality is a taboo and many people still regard same-sex relationships as illegitimate.
This week the court heard a “curative petition” – meant to “cure” an earlier court order perceived as a “miscarriage of justice”.
The court said the five-judge bench would be headed by the Chief Justice of India.
No date has been announced for the next hearing into the matter.
Members of the LGBT community, standing outside the court, broke into cheers and impromptu celebrations when the decision was announced.
Activists say police and authorities often misuse the law to harass homosexuals. Under this law, a same-sex relationship is punishable by a 10-year jail term.
In its 2009 ruling, the Delhi High Court had described Section 377 as discriminatory and said gay sex between consenting adults should not be treated as a crime.
The ruling was widely and visibly welcomed by India’s gay community, which said the judgement would help protect them from harassment and persecution.
An Indian MP’s bid to introduce a private member’s bill in the parliament to decriminalise gay sex failed.
Shashi Tharoor who also started a petition on Change.org over the issue, which has more than 40,000 signatories, said:
It is time to bring the Indian Penal Code into the 21st century.
News of the Supreme Court’s decision to examine the case again came a day after BBC Radio 4 broadcast a programme called Gay Bombay, presented by UK-based gay historian Dr Zareer Masani, above.
At one point in the broadcast Zareer returns to an elite Anglican school where he once suffered homophobic bullying. There is he told by the head that, when the Supreme Court overturned the High Court decision, many of the pupils took to the streets to protest.
Hat tip: Marcus