PM skips gay issue, leaves it to Ramadoss, Patil

Written by Political Bureau | New Delhi, Oct 16 | Updated: Oct 17 2008, 06:08am hrs
Avoiding any judgmental call on the conflict over orthodoxy and liberalism, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday asked health minister A Ramadoss and home minister Shivraj Patil to sit together and sort out the issue over legalising homosexuality.

The Prime Minister has directed the two ministers to sit together and discuss the matter and sort out differences, science and technology minister Kapil Sibal told reporters after the cabinet meeting.

The contentious subject has developed into a major controversy after health minister Ramadoss, a qualified doctor himself, sought legalisation of homosexuality arguing that it can help in better treatment of people suffering from HIV/AIDs. Ramadoss latest campaign, however, has encountered strong opposition from the Union home ministry, which holds the traditional view that gay sex is immoral. In the same vein, the Indian Penal Code (IPC) under Section 377 bans sexual relations among people of the same gender and carries a punishment of upto life imprisonment for such acts.

The matter came up before the Union cabinet in the backdrop of the Delhi high court pulling up the Centre on Wednesday while hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) that has challenged the legality of Section 377. While responding to the courts queries, the additional solicitor general PP Malhotra had cited religious texts to justify the prohibition of gay sex in the country.

Ticking off the government counsel for relying on religious texts, the court had asked it to come up with scientific reports instead in justification of the ban.

The court maintained that India would not be the first country to decriminalise homosexuality in that case that it did. Your arguments should be based on scientific reports. Show us scientific reports which justify criminalisation of such acts, the division bench comprising chief Justice AP Shah and Justice S Muralidhar had said on Wednesday.

The government, however, faces a paradoxical situation as the National Aids Control Organisation has already filed an affidavit on behalf of the Union health ministry which holds that sex among consenting adults belonging to the same gender should be decriminalised. The dilemma before the government was further evident when Kapil Sibal told reporters that it would abide by any court decision on the issue. Whatever the court decides, we will agree he said. He said the cabinet deferred a decision on the issue as it was already being argued before the court.

Ramadoss, who successfully led the campaign against smoking and was instrumental in laying severe restrictions over smoking in public, had said that he would take up the issue of legalising homosexuality with the Prime Minister after his ministry was ticked off by the home ministry in the courts.

Claiming support from progressive ministers in the Union cabinet, Ramadoss has proposed abolishing of the penal provision on those found indulging in gay sex.

There has been varying views on the subject, with some like NHRC chief S Rajendra Babu supporting the decriminalisation of homosexuality.