Yesterday saw two setbacks for gay rights, in India and Australia.
In 2009, the Indian supreme court overturned a 153-year old British law that forbid gay sex and imposed punishments of up to ten years. That decision was seen as a major step forward in a part of the world where attitudes towards the LGBT community can only be described as appalling.
But yesterday, as a result of a new case, the supreme court reversed itself and re-imposed the ban, using surprisingly intolerant language to justify its action.
Few expected the legal challenge launched by conservatives – including Muslim and Christian religious associations, a rightwing politician and a retired government official turned astrologist – to succeed. The supreme court is known for its broadly progressive judgments that often order politicians or officials to respect the rights of the poor, disadvantaged or marginalised communities.
However, critics said that the wording of the judgment – which refers to the “so-called rights of LGBT persons”, describes same-sex relations as “against the order of nature” and says that “lesbians, gays, bisexuals or transgenders constitute only a miniscule fraction of the country’s population” – reveals deep prejudice
Hindu and Christian bigots put out their usual inane ‘arguments’, which basically boil done to “I don’t like it and hence I want to ban it and so will make up some reason”.
Among the supporters of the challenge was Baba Ramdev, a Hindu holy man with a mass following who has fought a long legal battle to maintain the ban on gay sex.
At a press conference following the judgment, Ramdev invited the gay community to his yoga ashram where he said he would “cure them of homosexuality”, which he described as “unnatural, uncivilised, immoral, irreligious and abnormal”. He said he would do so by “keeping them in a room with a heterosexual for a few days”.
Tanuja Thakur, a Hindu spiritual leader, told the Guardian: “When two people of same sex indulge in a physical activity, it goes against nature. And anything unnatural is criminal in nature.”
He said homosexuality was “happening because society is not doing enough spiritual practice”.
The Australian high court also took that country backwards when it overturned a law passed by the Australian Capital Territory that allowed same-sex marriage, saying that the territory could not contradict a federal law passed in 2004 that only allows marriage between a man and a woman. A bill last year that sought to legalize same-sex marriage failed to pass, largely because of opposition by Christians.
Despite these setbacks, the changes are going to come because (a) the arguments against them make no sense and (b) young people are far more accepting of same-sex marriage and LGBT rights.
If there is one thing that I am absolutely certain of, it is that same-sex marriage and other markers of equality for the LGBT community are sure to come to pass.