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INDIA'S top court today upheld a law which criminalises gay sex, in a ruling seen as a major blow to gay rights, according to the BBC.

The court said it was up now up to parliament to legislate on the issue.

The ruling has been welcomed by religious groups, particularly leaders of India's Muslim and Christian communities, who had challenged the 2009 Delhi High Court ruling which had described Section 377 as discriminatory and said gay sex between consenting adults should not be treated as a crime.

Zafaryab Jilani, a member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board said:

The Supreme Court has upheld the century-old traditions of India. The court is not suppressing any citizen, instead it is understanding the beliefs and values of the large majority of the country.

According to Section 377, a 153-year-old colonial law, a same-sex relationship is an "unnatural offence" and punishable by a 10-year jail term.

Correspondents say although the law has rarely – if ever – been used to prosecute anyone for consensual sex, it has often been used by the police to harass homosexuals.

Also, in deeply conservative India, homosexuality is a taboo and many people still regard same-sex relationships as illegitimate.

The BBC's Sanjoy Majumder in Delhi says some politicians have spoken out against the court decision – but many believe it is going to be difficult for them to take on the anti-gay lobby.

"It is up to parliament to legislate on this issue," Justice GS Singhvi, the head of the two-judge Supreme Court bench, said in today's ruling, which came on his last day before retiring.

The Supreme Court ruling has come as a huge surprise for activists who have described it as "retrograde" and say this is "a black day" for gay rights in India.

They have campaigned for years for acceptance in India's deeply conservative society and many have vowed to carry on the fight for "their constitutional right".

Nobody expected the Supreme Court, often seen as a last recourse for citizens faced with an unresponsive government, to reverse an order many had hailed as a landmark.

As Justice GS Singhvi announced the order, activists and members of the gay and lesbian community present outside the court began crying and hugging each other.

Some asked if after the court ruling, they had become criminals.

India's Law Minister Kapil Sibal told reporters the government would respect the ruling but did not say whether there were plans to amend the law. Correspondents say any new legislation is unlikely soon –general elections are due next year.

Gay rights activists have described Wednesday's Supreme Court ruling as "disappointing" and said they will approach the court to review its decision.

Arvind Narrain, a lawyer for the Alternative Law Forum gay rights group, told reporters.

Such a decision was totally unexpected from the top court. It is a black day.We are very angry about this regressive decision of the court.

G Ananthapadmanabhan of Amnesty International India said in a statement:

This decision is a body-blow to people's rights to equality, privacy and dignity. It is hard not to feel let down by this judgement, which has taken India back several years in its commitment to protect basic rights.


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