NEW DELHI (ChurchMilitant.com) - The top court of India is re-evaluating a law deeming homosexual acts punishable with prison time — and the Catholic archbishop of Bombay is encouraging the move.
Cardinal Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Bombay, and known to be gay-friendly, has come out "in favor of decriminalization of Section 377" of the Indian Penal Code, which declares homosexual acts as "against the order of nature."
The supreme court in New Delhi is setting up a panel to re-examine a 2013 ruling that declared only the Indian parliament could repeal the colonial-era law prohibiting the country's citizens from openly engaging in a homosexual lifestyle.
The panel, set to be composed of five judges, is expected to decide if that power should be given to the judiciary. The 2013 decision had been prompted by a 2009 ruling from a high court in New Delhi that deemed Section 377 unconstitutional.
In the three years since the power was shifted to the legislative branch, the Indian parliament has made no attempt to repeal or amend the law. Gay activists have since been putting pressure on India's supreme court to review the decision in the hopes of a repeal.
Chief Justice T.S. Thakur stated Tuesday the court would need to create the panel, as the issue concerns the Indian constitution.
Many activists are cheering the decision, calling it a "very positive development." One activist, referred to as Vaijanti, declared the gay community is "confident that we will get our rights."
Cardinal Gracias himself has described the progress as "a good thing."
For me it's a question of understanding that it's an orientation. ... I know there is still research being done whether it's a matter of choice or matter of orientation and there are two opinions on this matter. But I believe maybe people have this orientation that God has given them and for this reason they should not be ostracized from society. The Church is concerned, and if you're Christian or Catholic and if you're part of the Church you have to have compassion, sympathy and understanding toward them.
He went on to call the Church's language on homosexual acts "judgmental" and admits he has spoken with archdiocesan priests about toning down their language with regard to homosexuality.
Cardinal Gracias concluded by asserting individuals who openly live the homosexual lifestyle must not only be tolerated, "they should also be accepted."
The Indian supreme court has not indicated when the five judges will be selected, and there is currently no timeline regarding the panel examination of the penal code.