India signals support for legalizing gay sex

Lawyers for the petitioners challenging the law said the homosexuality rule- dating from 1861 when India was under British

Lawyers for the petitioners challenging the law said the homosexuality rule- dating from 1861 when India was under British

The Supreme Court on Tuesday began hearing a clutch of petitions seeking scrapping of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) which criminalises homosexuality in the country.

However, it urged the five-judge constitution bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justices Rohinton Fali Nariman, A.M. Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra that they should confine to deciding the challenge to the law, without any scope that may give rise to members of the LGBT community claiming civil rights including right to property, inheritance marriage, adoption and other rights.

In a surprise move, the court announced in 2016 that it would take up the Section 377 case and hear arguments seeking to have the law struck down.

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"Unnatural offences. -Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with 1 [imprisonment for life], or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine". We can not celebrate it.

The court said, the matter has been pending for a while and the Centre should have filed its response by now.

The bench, led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, however, refused and listed it for today. The Central government is represented by Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.

Justice Chandrachud addressed Mr. Mehta to say that the prerogative of this hearing was to understand the nature of a relationship and bringing it under the protection of Article 21 (fundamental right to life) of the Constitution.

Supreme Court is hearing a bunch of petitions challenging a 158-year-old colonial-era law that criminalises gay sex.

He argued that the LGBT community accounted for a large section of the country's population whose right of sexual orientation was protected under Article 21 that relates to life and personal liberty. "The question here is whether Section 377 is ultra vires (beyond one's legal power) or not".

When the hearing was about to commence on the batch of writ petitions, an advocate appearing for NGO Naaz Foundation, which was the first petitioner to approach the Delhi High Court in 2001 on the issue, sought permission to intervene.

The gay community was emboldened previous year when the Supreme Court referred explicitly to the issue in a landmark ruling upholding the right to privacy. It was outrage over that ruling which opened the floodgates to numerous eminent Indians coming out openly - people who had previously kept their sexual orientation resolutely private.

The arguments would resume on Wednesday.

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