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India government asks high court to review its decision on anti-gay law

Friday, December 20, 2013
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India

Mahesh Kumar A., AP
Indian gay rights activists protest against a Supreme Court verdict that upheld section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalizes homosexuality in Hyderabad, India, Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013.

NEW DELHI — India’s government asked the country’s Supreme Court on Friday to review a decision in which it upheld a colonial-era law that bans homosexual acts and makes them punishable by up to a decade in prison.

Law Minister Kapil Sibal said he hoped the court would overturn the law. “Let’s hope the right to personal choices is preserved,” he said.

The court is expected to take up the review petition soon.

The Supreme Court ruled last week that only lawmakers and not the courts can change the law. The ruling struck down a 2009 lower court decision that said the law violated fundamental human rights.

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The Supreme Court ruling dealt a blow to gay activists who have fought for the chance to live openly in India’s deeply conservative society.

Gautam Bhan, a gay rights activist, welcomed the government move Friday and said the Supreme Court was the forum that should decide the issue.

The law, dating back to the 1860s, when Britain ruled over South Asia, states that “whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal” can be punished by up to 10 years in prison.

According to international human rights groups, more than 70 countries have laws criminalizing homosexual conduct, with India by far the most populous.

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