NEW DELHI — India’s top court on Tuesday agreed to re-examine a colonial-era law that makes homosexual acts punishable by up to a decade in prison.
The Supreme Court set up a five-judge panel to reconsider its 2013 ruling that only Parliament can change the 1861 law banning gay sex.
Gay activists cheered the court decision and said they were hopeful that the verdict would ultimately go in their favor, giving them a chance to live openly.
In 2009, a New Delhi High Court declared unconstitutional Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which says intercourse between members of the same sex is against the order of nature.
But the judgment was overturned four years later when the Supreme Court decided that amending or repealing the law should be left to Parliament, not the judiciary.
However, India’s Parliament did not act in the matter, with the ruling Hindu nationalist party in no hurry to change the law.
Activists sought a review of the court decision.
On Tuesday, Chief Justice T.S. Thakur and two other judges said it would be appropriate to refer the issue to a five-judge panel because it involved important issues concerning the country’s constitution.
Many activists welcomed the decision.
“It’s a very positive development and we are confident that we will get our rights,” said Vaijanti, an activist who uses one name.
Over the past decade, homosexuals have gained a degree of acceptance in parts of deeply conservative India, especially in big cities. Many bars have gay nights, and some high-profile Bollywood films have dealt with gay issues.
Still, being gay is seen as shameful in most of the country, and many homosexuals remain hidden.