Barely a few days ago,Law Minister Veerappa Moily made noises about the repeal of IPC Section 377. That was followed by a colourful gay parade in some cities. And now the Delhi High Court has spoken. There is already great commotion in the media and certainly an outburst of sentiment in the gay community.
Earlier,Moilys announcement had met with much resistance from both within the ruling UPA as well as the opposition BJP. Moily has himself since backtracked on his earlier statement saying that he was misinterpreted. Curiously,Moily in his statement had specifically referred to consultations with and approval of the Christian Churches before a final decision.
Not surprisingly,even before he set out with his task of consulting the churches,reactions had already begun to pour in. The first one to oppose the repeal came from the all-important Islamic seminary,the Darul Uloom of Deoband,followed by other Muslim organisations such as the All India Muslim Personal Law Board. They plan to get other religious bodies on board to oppose the same. Certain Christian groups have also joined the chorus though not as vociferously.
It is not yet clear whether the difference of opinion that has cropped up within the Congress on the issue is the result of religious minorities raising objections or because they genuinely believe that such a move will be offensive to the general public,which in India usually means the Hindus. While Moily might have had his own reasons to refer to the churches views,he would have done well to have included a wider section of society rather than singling out one particular religious community which is often wrongly presumed as a killjoy by the gay community.
To begin with,Section 377 held,Whosoever has carnal intercourse voluntarily against the order of nature with any man,woman or animal shall be punished with imprisonment for life,or imprisonment for a term which may extend to ten years,and shall be liable to fine. It was thus considered a crime in the eyes of law. Now the court says that homosexual relations between two consenting adults should not amount to a crime.
It needs to be made clear for the benefit of both the general public as well as the gay community that the Christian community does not (repeat it does not) treat people with homosexual tendencies as criminals. Nor does it be believe that they can be regarded on par with criminals. Therefore,it has no serious objection to the repealing of Section 377,which incidentally is what the Delhi high court seems to have ruled today in its historic judgment. In other words,it does not object to decriminalising homosexuality,though it fears that doing so might increase cases of HIV/ AIDS.
The Vaticans stand on this is quite clear: They [homosexuals must be accepted with respect,compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided (From the Catechism,No. 2358). But one must hasten to add and this is what all religious leaders,not just of minorities,should distinguish between too that decriminalising is not the same as: a) granting legal benefits; and b) accepting it as normal or natural.
It is not the case that only Muslims or Christians would consider it as unnatural. Are Hindu,Sikh and other religious groups ready to accept it as natural? For,genuinely legalising it would mean granting them many other rights,including that of marriage and of raising a family. And here lies the basic problem.
Let me clarify further that,not just the mainstream churches,but all religions and society in general accept the fact that the fundamental entity of society is the family,based on marriage between a man and a woman and where a child is nurtured in a natural environment to further Gods beautiful creation. The Creator has ordained it so that a child is the fruit of union between a man and a woman. This is the natural law of things; however much society progresses,or believes itself to be liberated from archaic laws,it cannot change this fundamental fact. And one does not even need to go to the Bible or the Koran or the Gita or the Veda-Puran to substantiate this reality of nature. Having same-sex relationship does not serve this God-given purpose of procreation.
Thus what the religious groups need to distinguish between is decriminalisation of homosexuality and granting it legal benefits. The former will help us extend our compassionate understanding towards this group of people rather than condemning it or rejecting it. Cases are known of people changing their unnatural behaviour through counselling. And,of course,men living in prisons or boarding schools or even serving in the army develop such behaviour temporarily but then are back on track to natural relationships.
The writer is Director of the Delhi Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church