Reversal of Homosexual Sex Ban in India Will Be Pursued By Legislative Route

Just one day after India's Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling and reinstated a colonial law banning gay sex, government officials now say they are considering repealing the law via the legislative process. Various high-ranking officials of the popular Indian National Congress party, including party leader Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi, have come out against the ruling, saying that it moves the country backwards, and promising to work to repeal the law.

As we reported, India's Supreme Court ruled in favor of the law Wednesday:

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court of India issued a ruling reinstating the country’s ban on homosexual sex. A lower court had decriminalized the practice four years ago, overturning a colonial law known as Section 377, which banned “carnal acts against the order of nature.” Though the court found that the law didn’t violate the Indian constitution, it said that parliament is free to legislate it away if it chooses to do so. Same-sex sexual contact is punishable by up to ten years in prison under the law.

Kapil Sibal, India's law minister and a Congress politician, said that, "all options were being considered to restore a 2009 Delhi High Court order." Finance Minister P Chidambaram said that, "It's gone back to 1860. I don't want to take names but those politicians opposing it, it's unfortunate. The government must go for review petition or curative petition."

Even the leader of the Congress party, Sonia Gandhi, spoke out against the law. In a statement, she said that she hopes "Parliament will address this issue and uphold the constitutional guarantee of life and liberty to all citizens of India." Her son Rahul said that he believes "that these are matters left to individuals."

Officials' statements are in line with international criticism of the ruling. "Criminalizing private, consensual same-sex sexual conduct violates the rights to privacy and to non-discrimination enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which India has ratified," said Navi Pillay, the United Nations human rights head. But despite support from these top party leaders, India's archaic sodomy law might stick around. While Congress wants to cater to pro-gay sensibilities, it also faces an uphill battle against the resurgent Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the prime ministerial elections.

So far, the BJP has remained silent on the Section 377 verdict. Sushma Swaraj, a BJP leader in the Lok Sabha, India's lower house of parliament, said that, "If the government proposes to make any changes in Section 377, they should call an all-party meeting to discuss the matter."

Other BJP politicians were more outspoken in opposition. "I welcome the Supreme Court verdict. When the bill is brought in Parliament, I will oppose it," said Yogi Adityanath, a member of parliament. "I oppose any move to decriminalize homosexuality and endorse Ramdev's comments."

If the BJP chooses to portray an anti-gay India as part of what their "authentic" India is, the BJP will deal another blow against the already struggling Congress. Of course, that would also be ironic, given that the sodomy laws were brought over by colonialists in the first place.