India government asks court to review gay sex ban

Indian gay activists celebrate the New Delhi High Court ruling decriminalising gay sex, in New Delhi on July 2, 2009. A 153-year-old colonial law describes a same-sex relationship as an "unnatural offence"

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The Indian government has filed a petition in the Supreme Court asking it to review its decision to reinstate a 153-year-old law that criminalises homosexuality.

The government asked the court to review its order saying it believed it "violated the principle of equality".

There has been outrage over the ruling seen as a huge blow to gay rights.

There have been street protests and many activists and even government ministers have criticised it.

The Supreme Court order on 11 December overturned a landmark 2009 Delhi High Court ruling which had decriminalised gay sex.

In its ruling, the Delhi High Court had described Section 377 - the colonial-era law which says a same-sex relationship is an "unnatural offence" and punishable by a 10-year jail term - as discriminatory and said gay sex between consenting adults should not be treated as a crime.

But the Supreme Court said it was up to parliament to change the law and the courts did not have the mandate to rule on it.

"The government has filed the review petition on Section 377 in the Supreme Court today. Let's hope the right to personal choices is preserved," Law Minister Kapil Sibal tweeted on Friday.

In its petition filed in the Supreme Court, the government says "the position of the central government on this issue has been that the Delhi High Court verdict... is correct".

The Supreme Court's earlier order was widely criticised in India.

The president of the ruling Congress party Sonia Gandhi described it as "an archaic, unjust law" and Finance Minister P Chidambaram said the ruling had taken India "back to 1860".

Gay rights activists called it "retrograde" and "disappointing" and the United Nations too criticised the decision, calling it a "significant step backwards for India".

But the ruling was welcomed by several political, social and religious groups, who had petitioned the Supreme Court to have the law reinstated in the wake of the 2009 court ruling.

Correspondents say although the law has rarely - if ever - been used to prosecute anyone for consensual sex, it has often been used by the police to harass homosexuals.

Also, in deeply conservative India, homosexuality is a taboo and many people still regard same-sex relationships as illegitimate.

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