In December, India’s Supreme Court overturned a decision made in 2009 that repealed Section 377. In doing so, it reinstated an archaic part of the Indian penal code that constitutionally criminalised homosexuality.
Legally, the court had every right to follow through with its decision. The repeal had been instated by the Delhi High Court, a court that did not have the jurisdiction to make constitutional amendments. By putting the power of constitutional repeals back in the hands of Parliament, the Supreme Court was upholding the democratic system and ensuring that the judiciary did not overstep its bounds.
The problem is that democracy is not the best solution to tackling civil or human rights issues. While there has been an outpouring of rage on social media and multiple LGBTQ+ campaigns to condemn the Supreme Court’s ruling, the majority of India’s population remains the same – staunchly socially conservative and against homosexuality.
For every person tweeting a photo of themselves holding a creative placard to demonstrate their
anger, there is a village of others who are happy that the ban has been put back in place. Politicians are very aware of this reality.
Australia’s High Court also banned same-sex unions, reversing a decision that had been made to allow such unions in one of its territories.
These politicians are either staying silent on the issue or using Section 377 to make sweeping statements on
Indian values. Many had criticised the Delhi High Court’s 2009 decision, saying that India was losing its identity and becoming too “westernised”, an unfortunately successful Asian political tactic.
A nation-wide referendum on the issue is unlikely but it is safe to say that a country that still sees
violence carried out against the LGBTQ+ community without any comment is unlikely to support decriminalising it.
Fights for equality are inevitably going to be rejected by the majority. The US civil rights movement and the call for universal suffrage both hit that same roadblock, making the road to success extremely long and arduous.The LGBTQ+ rights movement is similarly opposed by most people. India’s decision was preceded by Russia’s now infamous homosexuality “propaganda” law, and a referendum in Croatia that constitutionally banned same-sex unions. Australia’s High Court also banned same-sex unions, reversing a decision that had been made to allow such unions in one of its territories.
More recently, Uganda made homosexuality punishable by severe jail terms in the face of international
outrage and from the country’s miniscule but vocal LGBTQ+ community. These instances are sad proofs that the world is still not ready to embrace tolerance. Minority rights take decades to achieve success and to leave them to an ignorant or bigoted majority only serves to push them off the agenda.
This is not to say that 2013 only saw prejudice win the day. While India, Uganda, Australia and Croatia might have taken steps in the wrong direction, a multitude of countries including the UK, New Zealand, Uruguay and France, and an astonishing ten US states legalised same-sex marriages.
Additionally, laws to protect transsexual individuals made it through multiple national legislatures. Germany and Bangladesh took steps to recognise non-traditional sexual minorities. Pope Francis urged others not to judge homosexuals and initiated a survey to see how the Catholic laity views homosexuality and abortion. Rights for LGBTQ+ individuals in the armed forces and the workplace were recognised in several countries.
In many ways, 2013 was a year for major successes in the fight for sexual equality. It is important, however, that those around the world who believe in these rights do not get caught up in their celebrations. As the few painful lost battles have proved, the war is far from over.
Header image courtesy of flickr.com/ ep_jhu