Saturday, July 4, 2009

Decriminalising homosexuality: Recognition of dissent and diversity

Political front has surprised everyone with their reactions to the HC’s ruling of section 377. While laws need to stem from moral values, moral values do not necessarily become laws, writes Barun Mitra of the Liberty Institute.

The Delhi High Court’s ruling decriminalising section 377 has not only sanctioned strange bedfellows to come out in to the open, but also has brought together people who are hardly expected to share a political bed at all.

The communists, hardly the epitome of tolerance, seem to be the only one among the political class, along with many commentators in the media, to have welcomed this verdict.

On the other hand, following the judgement many leaders of different religions – Christians, Hindus, Muslims - find themselves united in expressing their disapproval. Among many others who normally prefer to wear their secular credentials on their sleeves, some seem to have suddenly discovered their affinity to tradition and culture and come out strongly against this judgment; others have discovered that ambiguity and silence is the better part of valour. They share the bed, but are not sure how to proceed, without assessing the social and political calculus of tilting one way or the other.

Amid such an anti-climax, it is clearly not easy to keep one’s head in place; yet, one must try to distinguish between the ethical values and legal implications of this judgment. While laws need to stem from moral values, moral values do not necessarily become laws. One way to look at this is that while the law provides the floor, the basic framework for individual behaviour in a society, moral values represent the high ceiling, which one should aspire to, but which is well beyond the legal norm.

In that context, the Delhi High Court's ruling to decriminalise homosexual behaviour among consenting adults is a very welcome and long awaited step forward.

However, that does not necessarily make me endorse that behaviour. Just as I will endorse the right of smokers, drinkers, drug users or prostitutes to exercise the freedom of their choices, at the same time I would not endorse many of those behaviours. While we as human beings have the right to be free to make those choices, these are what make us humans; yet, some of those choices that are not seen to be conducive to supporting life itself, should not be endorsed. One should have the right to end one’s life if one so decides, and others need to recognise that decision, but that is not the same thing as to say that one has to then endorse suicides.

As Voltaire is famously (but there is doubt about its historical authenticity!) supposed to have said, "I may not agree with what you say, but I defend to the death your right to say it."


Read the full article here.

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