A verdict that could decriminalize being gay is expected before the end of the year by one of India's high courts.

Being gay is illegal in the world's biggest democracy. India offers a harsh judgment for gays and lesbians – ten years to life in prison, longer than most rape or murder sentences. But a case before the New Delhi High Court seeks to reverse a holdover law instituted by the British in 1860.

Many Indian leaders reject being gay on moral or religious grounds. Gay advocates, however, say India is ready for the change, arguing that the constitution is on their side.

Seismic shifts in demographics may also help gay activists prevail. Three-quarters (75%) of the country's 1.1 billion people are under 35 years old. Many young Indians have become accustomed to the notion of gay acceptance while working for Western-based multinational companies that protect employees from discrimination based on sexual preference. This generation is more likely to embrace Western-style love-based marriages over India's culture of arranged marriages.

The United Nations is urging India to reverse the law and decriminalize being gay, saying it would help fight against HIV/AIDS.

New infections of HIV in India among men who have sex with men continue to climb. The United Nations argues such laws hinder prevention efforts aimed at gay men.

“Countries which protect men who have sex with men ... have double the rate of coverage of HIV prevention services – as much as 60 percent,” Jeffrey O'Malley, director of the United Nations Development Program on HIV/AIDS, told AFP.

“In China, male homosexuality has never been illegal. So there aren't any of these legal barriers to HIV prevention work,” he said. “It's easier to do this [prevention] work in China.”

Naz India, along with the Alternative Law Forum, filed the lawsuit challenging section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, or the “Anti-sodomy law,” in December 2002.

“There's real hope that the growing freedom in love and in career mobility for new India's young generation can start to dissolve boundaries for gay and lesbian Indians, too,” Arvind Narrain, an attorney with the Alternative Law Forum in Bangalore, told the Washington Post.