New Delhi: Gay rights activists on Wednesday submitted in the Supreme Court that criminalising homosexual acts is against constitutional values and law should not interfere when consenting adults are involved.

Naz Foundation, an NGO, working for the welfare and rehabilitation of HIV infected persons, contended that homosexuals are facing social ostracism with gay sex being declared as an offence.

Appearing before a bench of justices G S Singhvi and S J Mukhopadhaya, the NGO supported the Delhi High Court verdict decriminalising gay sex among consenting adults in private which was earlier an offence punishable upto life imprisonment.

"They are (homosexuals) our brothers and sisters and citizens of the country. If they cannot express their sexuality then they are second class citizen of the country. It is against our constitutional values," advocate Anand Grover, appearing for the NGO, said.

"It amounts to demeaning their worth and marginalizing them in society. They are not able to reveal their sexual expression as it has been made an offence in the society. Even incest is not an offence," he further said.

Countering the arguments of social and religious organisations that gay sex is immoral, he said that such acts among consenting adults is private affair and law should not interfere.

"It is not an issue of public morality but about private morality and purpose of law is not to interfere in private morality," he said.

The Apex Court is hearing petitions filed by anti-gay rights activists as also by political, social and religious organisations, challenging the Delhi High Court verdict decriminalising gay sex as provided in Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Section 377 (unnatural offences) of the IPC makes gay sex a criminal offence entailing punishment up to life term.

Senior BJP leader B P Singhal, who had opposed in the High Court the plea for legalisation of gay sex, has challenged the verdict in the Supreme Court, saying such acts are illegal, immoral and against ethos of Indian culture.

Religious organisations like All India Muslim Personal Law Board, Utkal Christian Council and Apostolic Churches Alliance too have also challenged the High Court's order.

Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Right, Tamil Nadu Muslim Munn Kazhgam, astrologer Suresh Kumar Kaushal and yoga guru Ramdev too have challenged the High Court verdict before the apex court. So has a Delhi-based social group Krantikari Manuvadi Morcha.

Earlier, the Centre had informed the Apex Court that there are an estimated 25 lakh gay population and about seven percent (1.75 lakh) of them are HIV infected.

The affidavit, filed by the Health ministry, said that it is planning to bring 4 lakh high risk Men who have Sex with Men (MSM) under its AIDS control programme and it has already covered around 2 lakh.

(Agencies)