India Supreme Court refuses to review gay sex ban

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Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender community attend a rally on India's 65th Republic Day in Delhi on January 26, 2014Image source, AFP
Image caption,
The Supreme Court ruling has been seen as a huge blow to gay rights

India's Supreme Court has refused to review its controversial decision to reinstate a 153-year-old law that criminalises homosexuality.

Judges dismissed petitions from the government and rights activists who say the order was wrong.

The Supreme Court judgement last month overturned a landmark 2009 Delhi High Court ruling decriminalising gay sex.

The ruling is seen as a huge blow to gay rights and has been criticised by activists and government ministers.

The Delhi High Court had described Section 377 - the colonial-era law which says a same-sex relationship is an "unnatural offence" and punishable by a 10-year jail term - as discriminatory and said gay sex between consenting adults should not be treated as a crime.

But in its order of 11 December, the Supreme Court said it was up to parliament to change the law and the courts did not have the mandate to rule on it.

The Supreme Court's order was criticised by gay rights activists who called it "retrograde" and "disappointing" and on 20 December, the government asked the court to review its order saying it believed it "violated the principle of equality".

The ruling, however, was welcomed by several political, social and religious groups, who had petitioned the Supreme Court to have the law reinstated in the wake of the 2009 court ruling.

Correspondents say although the law has rarely - if ever - been used to prosecute anyone for consensual sex, it has often been used by the police to harass homosexuals.

Also, in deeply conservative India, homosexuality is a taboo and many people still regard same-sex relationships as illegitimate.