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Indian government confused over gay rights stand

Gay sex is a touchy subject in India. A 148-year-old colonial law, overturned by the Delhi high court in 2009, deemed same-sex relationships as "unnatural offenses". For over a century, Indians have been wrestling with what's considered "natural" versus "unnatural" by the government, and after a recent slip of the tongue by Senior Supreme Court Advocate PP Malhotra, the confusion is understandable.

Conservative groups have asked India's Supreme Court to overturn the Delhi court's decision and on Thursday, Malhotra, who gives legal positions on behalf of the government told the justices that gay sex should be banned as it is "highly immoral and against social order and there is high chance of spreading of diseases through such acts." India should not succumb to Western sexual practices, Malhotra's said, and those who do should be subject to imprisonment. (Under the previous legislation homosexual acts received up to a 10-year prison sentence).

Coming from a highly-ranked government official, the statements provoked an uproar. But the home ministry quickly denied that any request calling for a new homosexuality ban had been made, said that it would not challenge the 2009 decision, and issued a statement saying that the ministry "has not taken any position on homosexuality."  Television reports later suggested that Mahotra was confused and was referring to an older government opinion.

After the judgment decriminalizing homosexuality was delivered by the Deli High Court in 2009, the cabinet decided that "the government may not appeal against the judgment to the Supreme Court."  The Guardian reports that, "While actual criminal prosecutions are few, the law has been used frequently to harass people."

The Supreme Court's next hearing, which will take place on Feb. 28, will decide the fate of the 2009 judgment, and, inevitably, the fates of those whose lives the law has impacted. Hopefully, the Home Office can figure out its opinion on the subject by then.

MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images

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