Official gay-bashing

On Thursday, the UPA government took the same large step backward it had taken in 2009 while arguing its case on homosexuality in the Delhi high court: that the sexual act between men and between women is immoral and that it transmits diseases like AIDS.

While the government distinguished itself for its hostility toward same sex freedoms and rights, the conservative religious right posited a different kind of homophobia --  that being homosexual, lesbian, transgendered or transsexual is against Indian culture and against the natural order of human relationships. While the 2009 order of the Delhi high court decriminalised homosexuality, it still isn’t easy being gay almost anywhere in India. Homophobia has become a new kind of bigotry, espoused not just by the religious right but -- now -- even the government which, on Thursday, switched positions from displaying deep antipathy to taking no stand at all over a frought issue.

For a government, which otherwise professes liberalism on economics and a range of other fundamental rights, to take a retrograde position on homosexuality as immoral is entwined with the belief that it would destroy the so-called social and moral order.

The health ministry and, indeed, the health minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad’s characterisation last year that homosexuality is “completely unnatural” was not just an uninformed comment, but an expression of official stigmatisation of and discrimination against a certain kind of sexual orientation that has much to do with individual choice. There is no conclusive scientific evidence to suggest that being gay has a determinitive genetic quirk or is a deviation from so-called normal sexual behaviour caused by some chromosomal twist.

Homosexuality may or may not be an immutable matter of biology, but the official resurrection of gay-bashing is just another example of the government’s poor record of how it has treated and continues to treat the country’s sexual minorities, including those who identify themselves as gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered. This country’s laws safeguard the rights of religious minorities and protect their rights.

For consenting adults, regardless of their gender, the right to like and love someone and express that desire for another person, even if that person is of the same gender, through sex is surely as vital to the right to life, liberty and freedom. There shouldn’t be trampling of the rights of those who exercise the choice to be ‘different.’

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