Court to hear gay rights plea on priority basis

July 23rd, 2008 - 9:43 pm ICT by IANS  


New Delhi, July 23 (IANS) The Delhi High Court Wednesday said it would hear a petition seeking to decriminalise homosexuality in India on a priority basis as it was an “urgent matter”. A division bench headed by Chief Justice Ajit Prakash Shah and Justice S. Muralidhar asked all parties to file their written arguments in the case and fixed Sep 18 and 19 for the next hearing.

“This is an urgent matter and we will not keep it pending for so long and will hear it expeditiously,” the bench said.

The parties include the central government, the Delhi government and V.P. Singhal, who opposes legalising homosexuality on grounds of traditional morality.

Naz Foundation, an NGO that works against the spread of HIV, filed the petition in December 2002, seeking decriminalisation of homosexual acts among consenting adults. It pleaded that the case be heard on a day-to-day basis as the matter was urgent.

In the last hearing May 22, Justice A.K. Sikri’s bench had sought the assistance of the attorney general in dealing with the petition as it sought an amendment to Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which declares all homosexual acts criminal with a maximum punishment of life imprisonment.

Naz Foundation’s petition seeks the court’s direction to declare Section 377 “unconstitutional”. It contends that the law violates a citizen’s fundamental rights and promotes illegal sex.

“Section 377 demeans a gay man. It silences a gay man into accepting the discrimination against him. He will not come out to declare his orientation,” the NGO contended.

The central government in its reply took a contradictory stand. While the home ministry favoured retaining Section 377, the health ministry was against it as it believed it hampered efforts to check HIV-AIDS.

The home ministry affidavit said: “Indian society strongly disapproves of homosexuality and disapproval is strong enough to justify it being treated as a criminal offence even where consenting adults indulge in it in private.

“Deletion of the section can open floodgates of delinquent behaviour and be misconstrued as providing unbridled licence for homosexual acts.”

The health ministry, however, feels otherwise.

“Enforcement of Section 377 can adversely contribute to pushing persons suffering from HIV underground which would make such risky sexual practices go unnoticed,” said an affidavit filed by National Aids Control Organisation (NACO), which comes under the health ministry.

NACO said that homosexuals were more vulnerable to HIV infection. It pointed out that there were around 2.5 million male homosexuals and around eight percent of them were infected with HIV, whereas among heterosexuals the infection rate was only one percent.

“Men having sex with men (MSM) are mostly reluctant to reveal same-sex behaviour due to fear of law enforcing agencies, pushing the infection underground and making it difficult to access them,” NACO said, adding that although 69 percent of them knew about preventing infection, only 36 percent used condoms.

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