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India's top court upholds ban on gay sex

India's Supreme Court has decided to uphold a colonial-era law making homosexuality illegal, overturning a 2009 ruling that decriminalized gay sex. The decision has shocked gay rights activists.

In its landmark ruling, the Indian Supreme Court stated that only the government could retract the law banning gay sex, which was originally passed in the 19th century.

It ruled that the Delhi high court had overstepped its powers

with its decision four years ago

to overturn the ban.

"It is up to parliament to legislate on this issue," said Judge G.S. Singhvi, who headed the two-man bench.

Section 377 of India's penal code bans "sex against the order of nature," which is widely interpreted to mean homosexual acts.

Though people are rarely prosecuted under the law, those convicted face a fine and a maximum 10-year prison sentence. Activists say the law is used by police to harass gay couples.

The Delhi High Court had ruled in 2009 that Section 377 infringed on the fundamental rights of Indians. The move angered religious groups, particularly leaders of India's Muslim and Christian communities, who then appealed against the High Court ruling to the Supreme Court.

'Black day'

Gay rights groups in India have voiced dismay at Wednesday's decision to uphold the 148-year-old law.

"Such a decision was totally unexpected from the top court. It is a black day for the community," Arvind Narayan, a lawyer of the Alternative Law Forum gay rights group, told reporters.

"We are very angry about this regressive decision of the court," he said.

Another lawyer, Indira Jaisingh, said the decision was the "imposition of a medieval mindset on the people of this country."

A lawyer for a Muslim charity said the decision "was not a retrograde judgment."

"All the communities - Muslims, Christians, the majority community Hindus - have all challenged the judgment of the Delhi High Court," he said.

tj/kms (AFP, Reuters)

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