NEW DELHI – An Indian court on Thursday decriminalized homosexuality, ruling that banning it violates the fundamental rights of the people.
The landmark judgment was passed down by the Delhi High Court which declared that homosexual sex between consenting adults is not a crime.
"We declare section 377 of IPC in so far as it criminalizes consensual sexual acts of adults in private is violative of Articles 14, 21 and 15 of the Constitution," a bench comprised of Chief Justice A.P. Shah and Justice S. Murlidhar stated.
The judges were responding to a petition filed more than eight years ago by the Naz Foundation (India) Trusta, a leading gay rights group, that called for the scrapping of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.
The 150-year-old British colonial-era law rules that homosexuality and "unnatural sex" are criminal acts and must be punishable with an imprisonment of 10 years.
The petitioners argued that the law violates their right to equality and personal liberty enshrined in the Constitution. They also pointed out that they faced harassment and social ostracism in a country proud for its democratic credentials.
Delivering its verdict, the High Court declared that "discrimination is antithesis of equality" and that "it is the recognition of equality which will foster dignity of every individual."
UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe welcomed the decision and said, "It sends a positive message to countries where such laws exist."
But for religious groups and conservative Indians, the decision is objectionable and unacceptable.
Maulana Khalid Rashid Farangi Mahali, a leading Muslim cleric in the northern city of Lucknow, criticized the ruling, saying, "This Western culture cannot be permitted in our country," as reported by The Associated Press.
Also coming out strongly against the ruling, Kamal Faruqui of India's Muslim Personal Law Board said, "No Muslim world including India can ever support it. Islam is totally against it and does not allow any unnatural act.
Representing the Christian minority in India, Bishop D.K.Sahu, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in India, expressed disapproval and told Christian Today that homosexuality "is against our religion and is forbidden in the Bible."
The Rev. Babu Joseph, a spokesman of the Roman Catholic church, told New Delhi Television that while homosexuals should not be treated as criminals, "at the same time we cannot afford to endorse homosexual behavior as normal and socially acceptable."
The ruling is the first of its kind in the deeply conservative and predominantly Hindu South Asian country. It applies only in New Delhi.