The Supreme Court on Wednesday sought to know from those opposed to legalising homosexuality as to what could be the meaning of the term "order of nature" in Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) in the age of test tube babies and surrogacy.
"Who is the expert to define the term 'order of nature', more so in relation to carnal intercourse? Meaning of words has never been constant. Test-tube babies, surrogate mothers - are they in the order of nature?" said a bench of justice GS Singhvi and justice SJ Mukopadhya.
The bench was hearing a batch of 16 appeals challenging the July 2009 Delhi HC verdict legalising homosexual acts amongst consenting adults in private. The 150-year-old Section 377 of the IPC states a person having carnal intercourse with a man; woman or an animal against the order of nature would be a crime.
"In changing times can the meaning of the term (order of nature) remain what it was in 1860?" the court asked senior advocate Amarendra Sharan, who is representing anti-homosexuality groups.
"It's a term which is more than 100 years old. Natural is something that comes with the nature," replied Sharan.
The bench asked Sharan to place foreign courts' judgments to define the term.
"We have to analyse Section 377 first and then decide whether it can be redefined in the modern context. The petition before HC was that sexual acts in private between consenting adults should be decriminalised. What type of sexual acts would get covered in this… because the section specifically talks of only carnal intercourse, that too against the order of nature and not all sexual acts? Does it mean that if there is no carnal intercourse, there would be no offence?" the bench asked.
Commencing his arguments on behalf of the petitioners, Sharan said nature recognised intercourse between a man and woman. "Beastiality, homosexuality and lesbianism would be considered unnatural," he said.