Friday, July 3, 2009

Indian Court Overturns Gay Sex Ban

NEW DELHI —In a landmark ruling Thursday that could usher in an era of greater freedom for gay men and lesbians in India, New Delhi's highest court decriminalized homosexuality.

"The inclusiveness that Indian society traditionally displayed, literally in every aspect of life, is manifest in recognizing a role in society for everyone," judges of the Delhi High Court wrote in a 105-page decision, India's first to directly address rights for gay men and lesbians. "Those perceived by the majority as 'deviants' or 'different' are not on that score excluded or ostracized," the decision said.

Homosexuality has been illegal in India since 1861, when British rulers codified a law prohibiting "carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal." The law, known as Section 377 of India's penal code, has long been viewed as an archaic holdover from colonialism by its detractors.

"Clearly, we are all thrilled," said Anjali Gopalan, the executive director and founder of the Naz Foundation, an AIDS awareness group that sued to have Section 377 changed.

"It is a first major step," Ms. Gopalan said during a news conference in Delhi, but "there are many more battles."

Thursday's decision applies only in the territory of India's capital city, but it is likely to force India's government either to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, or change the law nationwide, lawyers and advocates said.

Outside the hall where the Naz Foundation news conference was held, dozens of young men and women gathered to celebrate, along with a group of hijras, men who dress and act like women who classify themselves as belonging to neither gender. "It is a victory of human rights, not just of gay rights," said one 22-year-old man who only identified himself as Manish.

Gay men and women have rarely been prosecuted under Section 377 in India in modern times, but it has been used to harass, blackmail and jail people.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/03/world/asia/03india.html

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