India Reinstates 153-Year-Old Gay Sex Ban

India's Supreme Court overturns 2009 ruling, making homosexual relationships unlawful.

Indian gay rights activists shout slogans during a protest after the country's top court ruled that a colonial-era law criminalizing homosexuality will remain in effect in India in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013.
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India's Supreme Court overturned a 2009 lower court ruling Wednesday, making it the 77th country where it's illegal to have a homosexual relationship. The court upheld a 153-year-old colonial law that declares same-sex relationships to be an "unnatural offence."

The two-judge bench of the Supreme Court ruled the law to be constitutional, saying that only parliament could change the law.

"The legislature must consider deleting this provision (Section 377) from law as per the recommendations of the attorney general," Justice G.S. Singhvi, the head of the two-judge Supreme Court bench, said in Wednesday's ruling.

The law carries a maximum 10-year jail sentence but is rarely enforced. Rather, police use the law to discriminate and harass the lesbian, gay. bisexual and transgender community in India, exploiting it for bribes, The Associated Press reports.

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The ruling came after a number of political, social and religious groups pressured the Supreme Court to overturn the 2009 Delhi High Court ruling. The traditional Indian culture cleaves to conservative customs and beliefs, making it hard for many to recognize these relationships as legitimate or even tolerate them.

"The Supreme Court has upheld the century-old traditions of India; the court is not suppressing any citizen, instead it is understanding the beliefs and values of the large majority of the country," Zafaryab Jilani, member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, told BBC Hindi.

But others view this decision as a step backwards for human rights. The LGBT community from across the world heralded the ruling to be immoral and unjust.

"It is hard not to feel let down by this judgment, which has taken India back several years in its commitment to protect basic rights," G. Ananthapadmanabhan of Amnesty International India said in a statement.

The gay sex ban took many by surprise.

"Such a decision was totally unexpected from the top court. It is a black day," Arvind Narrain, a lawyer for the Alternative Law Forum, a gay rights group, told reporters.

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Many gays are taking the decision in stride. In fact, the reinstatement of the old ban has made LGBT communities resolve to resist what they view to be oppressive legislation.

"We cannot be forced back into the closet. We are not backing off from our fight against discrimination," Gautam Bhan, a gay activist, told The AP.

Now that the courts have shifted the heat back to the government, Indians wonder what parliament's next move will be.

"We have the prerogative to make laws; we shall exercise our prerogative," India Law Minister Kapil Sibal said to the Voice of America. Though, he did maintain the court's decision needed to be respected.

While many "feel very let down," gay rights lawyer Anand Grover said, "our fight is not over and we will continue to fight for the constitutional right."

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