In the last few days the cause of LGBT equality has been hit with a few setbacks. First there was the rejection of equal marriage in Slovenia. Now there has been another unfortunate result that has come from India. Slovenia will have marriage equality because of the determined activists on the ground, but even at this time the LGBT community can at least be in sexual relationships with people. This still is not the case in India.
The bill to decriminalize homosexual acts was introduced by Indian National Congress MP Shashi Tharoor in a bid to make India a more tolerant country. Unfortunately the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Indian Parliament, voted 71-24 against the bill. After the result Tharoor tweeted “surprising to see such intolerance” and followed up that Section 337, India’s colonial era anti-sodomy law, is “about constitutional principles– equality before the law, privacy, dignity, non-discrimination”.
As I mentioned in my coverage of the Slovenia referendum there is a silver lining to this story, even if it is harder to see. In the Lok Sabha there are 545 MPs. As stated above the bill was defeated by a margin of 47 votes, but it also means that 450 MPs didn’t bother to vote on the issue. Although many of these representatives are socially conservative, some did not hold a strong enough view either way to cast their vote. This, at least theoretically, means that there are a decent number of MPs that could be persuaded to support decriminalization.
India has the potential to be a beacon of hope for the LGBT community in Asia. Geographically speaking, India is flanked by countries with large Muslim populations and many of these people support more conservative strains of that religion. As countries become more developed, these nations have appeared to adopt more liberal ideas in relation to religion and tolerance of sexual minorities. We can only hope that India doesn’t buck this trend and that another vote on repealing Section 337 will be able to pass in the near future.
India is a very religious country and this often correlates with how people feel towards the LGBT community which is probably why I am less optimistic about India than Slovenia. Although this conservatism is discouraging in relation to other LGBT milestones like equal marriage and anti-discrimination laws, history has shown that even people that don’t equality in these policy areas have supported decriminalization.