India's Supreme Court has ruled in a landmark judgment that homosexual acts between consenting adults are no longer a crime, but church officials say that legal validity does not make the practice morally acceptable. The court on Sept. 6 struck down Section 377-A of the Indian Penal Code that said homosexual acts in public or private were a crime punishable with a jail term of up to 10 years. The colonial-era law
criminalizing consensual unnatural sex was irrational, indefensible and manifestly arbitrary, the court said. But sexual activity with animals and non-adults remains a punishable offence, it added. In an official statement, Indian bishops said that although homosexual acts are now legalized, they are not morally acceptable or justified. "What is legal is not equal to moral acceptability," said a statement issued by Father Stephen Fernandes
, secretary to the Indian bishops' office for justice, peace and development. It said the Catholic Church and many others hold that homosexual behavior is morally unacceptable because "it violates the purpose of human sexuality, which is procreation … This is the moral stand of the Catholic Church." The church, however, "respects the dignity of homosexuals as persons and human rights flowing from human dignity and personhood, just as the church stands for the same for all without exclusion or discrimination," the statement said. Indian bishops' conference vice-president Bishop Joshua Mar Ignathios of Mavelikara said the "Catholic Church in India neither promotes nor propagates homosexuality. It is always for men and women and a happy family." Hindu and Muslim religious leaders were also critical of the court verdict. Hindu spiritual guru Goswami Sushil Ji Maharaj
told ucanews.com that homosexuality does not go with the meaning of creation. "God has created men and women for a purpose … but some people think differently now, which is not morally acceptable," he said. Muhammad Arif, chairman of the Centre for Harmony and Peace in the central state of Uttar Pradesh, said homosexuality and gay culture "are all Westernized, which is correct for some people, but I don't think our society is ready to take it at this moment." James Valiath, program co-coordinator at the Naz Foundation, one of the petitioners for the welfare of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, said the verdict brings happiness for all who stood for the rights of people. "I can't express my happiness and joy because our organization has been fighting this case for the last 17 years. Now LGBT people can live peacefully in society with legal acceptance," he said.