India’s offering an interesting example of how illogic can reign when societal norms change. This is not – not here at least – to say that any particular set of societal norms are better or even more moral than another. It’s just to point out that as we transition from one set of norms to another we can end up with some logic defying insistences along the way. For India seems to be on the verge of legalising same sex sexual relations, while the government is arguing that adultery must remain illegal. Leaving aside our own prejudices for a moment on either subject, it’s obvious enough that we could logically argue for one of two positions. Adults get up to whatever sex consenting adults desire to get up to. That is, adultery and gay sex should both be legal. Or we can argue – wrongly to my mind but still – that both should be illegal as it’s up to government and the law to monitor and control the morals of the populace.
The government on Wednesday submitted that dropping of adultery as an offence from the Indian Penal Code (IPC) will erode the sanctity of marriage and be detrimental to the “intrinsic Indian ethos.”
In an 11-page affidavit which will be taken up before a Constitution Bench, the Centre said the provision punishing adultery — Section 497 of IPC — “supports, safeguards and protects the institution of marriage” considering the “unique structure and culture of Indian society.” The government agreed to the thought that “stability of a marriage is not an ideal to be scorned” and striking down Section 497 would destroy the fabric of society itself.
Well, it’s a view, whatever we think of it. But then:
The Central government on Thursday urged the Supreme Court to not enter into matters of religious beliefs while deciding validity of Section 377 in the IPC, which makes homosexuality an offence irrespective of age and consent.
In his brief submission, Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta requested the Constitution Bench to steer clear of the matters of religion.
The government then goes on to argue that whatever the court decides – which will clearly be for legalisation – is just fine with it.
My view is that consenting adults get to do as consenting adults without the intervention of the law either or any way. Your view can differ, can indeed be anything you’d like it to be. But it is odd to see the argument in favour of the criminalisation of adultery and not of gay sex. In most other places, as those public mores have changed, the order has been reversed in the liberalisation.