Homosexuality immoral, but not criminal: Religious leaders

4 Jul 2009, 0216 hrs IST, TNN – TIMES OF INDIA

DELHI/MUMBAI:

In the first flurry of reactions, religious leaders appeared to be slamming the de-criminalization of gay sex. But while mostconservative scholars and clerics remain opposed to homosexuality as an article of faith, many say that they aren’t advocating making it a criminal act as Section 377 of IPC did.

Writer and philosopher Deepak Chopra told TOI from his home in New York, ‘‘A new morality must evolve that is based on a true understanding of human nature, that is also consistent with its biology. Homosexuality has been part of the human condition for as long as human beings have existed. The Delhi High Court should be congratulated for making a decision that finally catches up with our times.’’

Then, while Delhi Catholic Archdiocese has described homosexuality as ‘‘unnatural’’, it says it has nothing against its de-criminalization. Spokesperson of Delhi Catholic Archdiocese, Father Dominic Emmanuel, told TOI,‘‘Homosexuality is a sin — as opposed to a crime. But we believe that those who indulge in it should be treated with respect and compassion.’’

In a newspaper article, Father Dominic was even more forthright. ‘‘It needs to be made clear that the Christian community does not (repeat it does not) treat people with homosexual tendencies as criminals. Nor does it believe that they can be regarded on par with criminals. Therefore, the church has no serious objection to the repealing of Section 377.

‘‘The Vatican’s stand on this is quite clear: Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided’,’’ wrote Father Dominic.

Similarly, some Muslim clerics and scholars, too, favour de-criminalization of homosexuality, saying that while Islam does not permit homosexuality, this doesn’t mean it should be equated with criminality.

‘‘The Quran condemns homosexuality, but doesn’t prescribe any punishment for it. It’s a sin, not a crime. Sin is between Allah and the sinner, but crime concerns the entire society. So, sexual minorities should be left to their conscience. They are answerable to Allah for their act and should not be treated as criminals,’’ said Islamic scholar Asghar Ali Engineer.

Maulana Abu Zafar Hassan Nadvi, a cleric, too accepts that since the Quran is silent on the punishment for homosexuality, it should be treated as an irreligious, immoral act. ‘‘Every non-religious act is not liable to be punished. Just as we don’t pronounce death for atheists, homosexuals should be left alone until they get reformed,” said Maulana Nadvi.

Some clerics maintain that since Indian state is secular, it should not press for laws guided by religions. ‘‘Why should we expect that what applies in Saudi Arabia or Iran must also apply in India in regard to punishment for homosexuality? As a religious person, I condemn homosexuality. But I don’t have the right to declare homosexuals criminals,’’ said Maulana Zaheer Abbas Rizvi, a Shia scholar and member of the All India Ulema Council.

Said Deepak Chopra, ‘‘What is religion? And what is morality? Religion is nothing more than cultural mythology…A religion that gets frozen and is not consistent with our current understanding of evolution, biology or cosmogenesis ceases to serve people and becomes a self-righteous, immoral force in society. Hence all religions have become quarrelsome, divisive and idiotic.’’

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Gay sex ‘not criminal’ in India

02 July 2009 – courtesy BBC news

A court in the Indian capital, Delhi, has ruled that homosexual intercourse between consenting adults is not a criminal act.

The ruling overturns a 148-year-old colonial law which describes a same-sex relationship as an “unnatural offence”.

Homosexual acts were punishable by a 10-year prison sentence.

Many people in India regard same-sex relationships as illegitimate. Rights groups have long argued that the law contravened human rights.

Delhi’s High Court ruled that the law outlawing homosexual acts was discriminatory and a “violation of fundamental rights”.

The court said that a statute in Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which defines homosexual acts as “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” and made them illegal, was an “antithesis of the right to equality”.

‘India’s Stonewall’

The ruling is historic in a country where homosexuals face discrimination and persecution on a daily basis but it is likely to be challenged, says the BBC’s Soutik Biswas in Delhi.

It also promises to change the discourse on sexuality in a largely conservative country, where even talking about sex is largely taboo, our correspondent says.

Gay rights activists all over the country welcomed the ruling and said it was “India’s Stonewall”.

New York’s Stonewall riot in 1969 is credited with launching the gay rights movement.

“It [the ruling] is India’s Stonewall. We are elated. I think what now happens is that a lot of our fundamental rights and civic rights which were denied to us can now be reclaimed by us,” activist and lawyer Aditya Bandopadhyay told the BBC.

“It is a fabulously written judgement, and it restores our faith in the judiciary,” he said.

Leading gay rights activist and the editor of India’s first gay magazine Ashok Row Kavi welcomed the judgement but said the stigma against homosexuals will persist.

“The social stigma will remain. It is [still] a long struggle. But the ruling will help in HIV prevention. Gay men can now visit doctors and talk about their problems. It will help in preventing harassment at police stations,” Mr Kavi told the BBC.

But the decision was greeted with unease by other groups.

Father Dominic Emanuel of India’s Catholic Bishop Council said the church did not “approve” of homosexual behaviour.

“Our stand has always been very clear. The church has no serious objection to decriminalising homosexuality between consenting adults, the church has never considered homosexuals as criminals,” said Father Emanuel.

“But the church does not approve of this behaviour. It doesn’t consider it natural, ethical, or moral,” he said.

In 2004, the Indian government opposed a legal petition that sought to legalise homosexuality – a petition the high court in Delhi dismissed.

But rights groups and the Indian government’s HIV/Aids control body have demanded that homosexuality be legalised.

The National Aids Control Organisation (Naco) has said that infected people were being driven underground and efforts to curb the virus were being hampered.

According to one estimate, more than 8% of homosexual men in India were infected with HIV, compared to fewer than 1% in the general population.