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