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Indian court upholds anti-gay law

| Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

NEW DELHI — India's Supreme Court overturned a historic lower-court decision on homosexuality on Wednesday, making gay sex a crime in the world's most populous democracy, with violators facing as many as 10 years in prison.

The court ruled that a British colonial-era law outlawing “carnal acts against the order of nature” was constitutional. Changing it should be left to Parliament, not the courts, the judges ruled.

The ruling was a sign of how the gay rights movement has been met with a fierce backlash in some parts of the world, even as it has made dramatic gains elsewhere.

The Delhi High Court had legalized consensual same-sex relations in 2009. That victory was seen as a watershed moment in the country's gay rights movement, which has been growing despite stiff opposition from many quarters in this still-traditional and deeply religious society. Many gay and lesbian Indians have long felt the need to conceal their sexual identities, and some even marry heterosexuals because of the stigma attached to their sexuality.

At a news conference, gay rights activists said that they were shocked and discouraged by the ruling.

“It's a black day for us,” said Anjali Gopalan, the founder of the Naz Foundation, a nongovernmental organization that is focused on HIV/AIDS and was the petitioner in the original Delhi case. “I feel so exhausted right now thinking we are being set back by 100 years.”

The 2009 decision decriminalizing homosexuality was controversial. Several religious, political and social groups filed appeals. The government did not join the appeals, but India's solicitor general said during arguments in the case before the Supreme Court that gay sex was “highly immoral,” touching off a firestorm.

“All religious communities — Muslims, Christians, Hindus — had said that this was unnatural sex,” said Ejaz Maqbool, a lawyer representing religious groups.

Prakash Sharma, a senior leader and spokesman for the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, a conservative Hindu group, lauded the court decision.

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