Government declines view on decriminalising gay sex


New Delhi : The government Thursday refrained from taking a view on the Delhi High Court’s ruling decriminalising gay sex, and said it was for the Supreme Court to rule on the appropriateness of the verdict. But a promised home ministry statement on the issue did not materialise till Thursday evening.

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“The cabinet considered the report of the group of ministers and decided to ask the attorney general to assist the Supreme Court in every way desired in arriving at an opinion on the (Delhi) high court judgment,” Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni said.

She was briefing reporters after a cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Manomohan Singh here Thursday.

On Aug 17, the Supreme Court had sought the central government’s stand on decriminalising gay sex between consenting adults after lawsuits challenged the Delhi High Court’s July 2 verdict.

In the historic ruling, the Delhi High Court had quoted Jawaharlal Nehru to emphasise that the constitution guaranteed equal rights to all citizens.

The Supreme Court had refused to suspend the high court verdict after Attorney General Goolam E. Vahanvati indicated the government’s lack of keenness in seeking a stay on the ruling.

Soni fielded a barrage of questions on the divisive issue, including one on whether the government was taking the soft way out. She said: “I don’t think you can take that viewpoint.”

She also refused to answer a question on whether a cabinet note, drawn up on the basis of the group of ministers’ meeting, had stated there was no “legal error” in the Delhi High Court verdict. The high court had partly scrapped the penal provisions against homosexuality framed during the British Raj.

“The GoM (group of ministers) report is restricted to the cabinet,” the minister maintained.

The home ministry, she said, would be issuing a statement on the issue. This, however, did not happen.

The question was to have been discussed at a cabinet meeting Sep 10 but was not taken up as Home Minister P. hidambaram was then away on a visit to the US.

The high court decision has been challenged in the Supreme Court, which had July 9 sought the respective stands of the central and the Delhi governments.

A bench of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan issued notices to the two governments, besides seven others, on a lawsuit filed by Delhi-based astrologer-cum-advocate Suresh Kaushal and sought the respondents’ replies by July 20.

At the July 20 hearing, Vahanvati said: “There are three ministries involved in the matter. We need some more time to formulate our view.”

“We don’t exactly want a stay,” Vahanvati added.

Defined as unnatural sex, under section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, homosexuality was punishable with imprisonment up to life.