Friday, June 23, 2006


This article is an inter disciplinary study. It connects gay rights with conservation of parity and Right-Left Symmetry. It also deals with the Wolfendem Committee; its recommendation for decriminalisation of Homosexual behaviour; similar laws in other parts of the world; and Romer Vs Evans (1996) 517 US 620 where the US Supreme Court voided the Colorado’s Constitutional amendment that barred any legislation protecting homosexuals from discrimination.1

‘The law is the witness and external deposit of our moral life. Its history is the history of the moral development of the race’. (Holmes; The path of law)

The law is not morally neutral. It should not be. But the question is which moral values should it adopt. Should the law be a peeping tom? Is bedroom a private place or is it subject to the presence of law. Should law govern the private morality of consenting adults?

Indian sexual morality is governed by section 377 of the Indian Penal Code 1860 (in short IPC). It: deals with unnatural offence; denies among others sexual relations with the same sex and fundamentally differs from rape. Consent, relevant for rape, is immaterial for unnatural offence under Section 377 of the IPC. It deals with private morality of consenting adults apart from other things. There is no decision in India where consenting adults were involved. At least none is reported but this is irrelevant. It still makes it an offence for the consenting adults. We, at least, have two that have been reported in England.

Alan Mathison Turing, mathematician extraordinary, pioneer in computer science, a key force in breaking the Nazis famous Enigma cipher, was arrested in Manchester, England, in 1952 for the crime of ‘Gross Indecency’ contrary to Section 11 of The Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885.’ Turing’s home had recently been burgled by an acquaintance of Arnold Murray, with whom Turing had sexual relations. When Turing reported the burglary to the police, he told them about his affair with Murray, naively believing that a royal commission was about to legalise homosexuality. Two months later, Turing was tried for six sexual offences, and was convicted of all six. He was not sent to prison, but was given a year’s probation on the condition that he underwent Organo-Therapic treatment, a program of regular doses of Androgynizing female hormones. Instead of taking it, took his life by eating half of an apple dipped in cyanide solution. This was in 1954. He was forty-one. (For details, kindly see Alan Turing: The Enigma; Andrew Hodges; Simon & Schuster, New York)

Oscar Wilde is the other one. Though he did not commit suicide. He had close relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas. This infuriated the Marquees of Queensberry, Douglas' father. He accused him of being a sodomite. Wilde, urged by Douglas, sued for criminal libel. However, when the evidence went against him, his case collapsed and he dropped the suit. Wilde refused the suggestions of his friends to flee to France. He could not believe that his world was at an end. He was arrested and ordered to stand trial. Wilde testified brilliantly, but the jury failed to reach a verdict. In the retrial he was found guilty and sentenced to two years of hard labour in May 1895. (For details, kindly see Oscar Wilde; R. Ellmann; Penguin International)

The Encyclopaedia Britannica says,
‘Sodomy is ‘noncoital carnal copulation. The term is understood in history, literature, and law in several senses:
  • as denoting any homosexual practices between men, in allusion to the story of Sodom in Genesis 18:19;
  • as denoting anal intercourse;
  • as synonymous with bestiality or zoophilia, i.e., sexual relations between human beings and animals, and
  • as comprehending a number of other sexual activities, ranging from sexual contacts with minors to mouth-genital contacts and oral intercourse between adults.

Section 377 of IPC punishes all this. The language is not so explicit. It has been worded vaguely. It punishes those who have carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or anima. Any intercourse without consent or with a minor or with an animal or with some one incapable of giving consent is wrong and should be punished but is it against the order of nature even if it is between consenting adults? What is the meaning of the word against the order of nature even if it is between consenting adults? What is the meaning of the word against the order of the nature? Some answers are provided by Khannu versus Emperor, AIR 1925 Sind 286,
‘The natural object of carnal intercourse is that there should be a possibility of conception of human beings’.
But is it, in modern times, still true; still accepted? This was clarified in Lohia Vajant Lal versus Dev Chand, AIR 1968 Gujarat 252,
‘Mr. Mehta advanced an argument that this theory that the sexual intercourse is only meant for the purpose of conception is an out dated theory. It may be true. But at the same time it could be said without any hesitation that the orifice of mouth is not according to the nature meant for sexual or carnal knowledge’.
It is a common thread that runs almost in all cultures and religions. Is there something more fundamental to it?

Let’s see it from another angle. God has created human beings into two different groups: men and women. It we take one each from different groups they produce a child. But two of the same group cannot produce one. Such relationships between two mutually exclusive groups, namely to produce one result when two from the same group are taken and other result when one each from different group is taken, is in abundance in nature. So much so that we take it for granted.

There are two poles of a magnet- South and North. You take one of each of different groups; they attract. Take two of the same group; they repel. It is equally true for electric charges.

There are even numbers. And there are odd numbers. Take two numbers of different groups and add you will always get an odd number and numbers of the same group when added produce an even number. So is the case with the multiplication of positive and negative numbers.

This is a special relationship. It is so fundamental fundamental that Physicists have given it a name, define it as a law - that too conservation law. If such relationship or condition exists it is said that parity is conserved.2

Law of conservation of parity is not the only law of conservation. There are others. We know about the law of conservation of energy; modified by Albert Einstein to the law of conservation of mass and energy. In short it means given any isolated system its mass and energy will always be the same. This is the reason for the destructive power of atom bomb or heat/light of the Sun.

There is also the law of conservation of momentum i.e. mass (inertia) multiplied by velocity (linear or angular) of a system remains constant. It you ask any billiards player he will explain the mechanics of ball movement. It is governed by conservation of linear momentum. Have you ever seen an ice skater rotating about her legs with her hands stretched and suddenly she closes her hands and behold she is rotating faster. The conservation of angular momentum is at play. You know moon is inching away from us. The reason is that the earth is slowing down due to tides. If angular momentum of the earth and the moon is to remain constant, distance between the earth and the moon should increase.

Conservation laws are amazing. Aren’t they? What an influence they have on our daily lives! Imagine life without the Sun, without the law of conservation of energy. But nature has other mysteries in her bosom. ‘Symmetry’ is one of them. The two are somehow related - For each and every symmetry there is a law of conservation and vice versa.

We know that time is symmetrical. When we say that we mean the laws of nature do not vary with time. The Law, which governs the motion of the earth round the sun today, will govern it tomorrow. It will not change merely because the time has changed. If it does, then time becomes asymmetrical. This has not happened as yet. The Law of conservation of mass and energy is connected with it. Both have to be true or both false. It is not possible that the law of conservation of mass and energy be true and time to become asymmetrical. If time becomes asymmetrical then the law of conservation of mass and energy also breaks.

Similarly the law of conservation of momentum is connected with the symmetry about space. Laws do not vary with space. Whatever is true on earth will be true at any other place. Let’s say on the Moon or on the Mars. They have different gravity but then the same gravitational law determines that as on earth.

There is another symmetry. We will talk in some details about it. It is A symmetry of Right and Left. The laws of nature have no reason to prefer the right direction to the left. No one can distinguish what is real and what is its mirror image merely by observing any physical law. Nature has no Right-Left bias. This does not mean that Right-Left asymmetry cannot exist in nature. It only means that what it can do in a left- handed way, it can do in a right-handed way. The Sun rises in the East. Reason; the earth rotates from west to east. This is undoubtedly asymmetrical. This is an accident and not due to the fact that God prefers it that way. We know, Venus rotates in retrograde from east to west. The Sun rises in the west there.

Right-Left symmetry does not mean that mirror images of asymmetrical object or moving system must exist in equal quantities. It merely says that there is nothing in nature to prohibit the possible existence of both types of handedness. In 1927, the Hungarian physicist Eugene P. Wigner showed that conservation of party is equivalent to Right-Left symmetry. If Right-Left symmetry is true then conservation of parity is true. If one of them is false then so is the other.

Right-Left symmetry is the most beautiful of all symmetries. Truly, it is ‘the order of nature’- And with it, conservation of parity. So fundamental is it that we insist that it be conserved in all relationships. In the case of childbirth parity is conserved. We call it the order of nature. But in case of sexual attraction- two belonging different groups do attract, and in case two of the same also attract then parity will not be conserved. So is the case with marriage. We punish it.

Section 377 of the IPC is ‘conservation of parity’ translated into legislative language.

Let’s look at Right-Left symmetry in another form- a puzzle. Suppose there is life on another planet in another galaxy and we are able to make contact with them. We want to see their picture. We ask them to televise it. We view from left to right and wish to tell them to scan from left to right, for if they scan right to left, we shall see their mirror images. How do we tell them which side is left and which is right?

Right-left symmetry says that if these two words are inter-changed in every text overnight we shall not be able to distinguish it by means of any law. Is there a way?3 This problem has been named the Ozma problem. 4If there is Right-left symmetry then there is no solution to the Ozma problem. And if there is one then there is no Right-left symmetry, no conservation of parity.

The Ozma problem has been solved. In order to understand it we must briefly acquaint ourselves with the Theta-Tau puzzle and four5 fundamental forces governing our Universe.
They are known as
  • Strong Nuclear force.
  • Electromagnetic force.
  • Gravitational force.
  • Weak interaction force.
Parity is conserved so far as Strong Nuclear force and Electromagnetic forces are concerned. So is Right-Left symmetry.

The gravitational force is so feeble that gravitational interaction of atomic article is impossible to measure and it is not known if there is any gravitational repulsion. The question of parity in gravitational force cannot be checked. This leaves weak interaction force.

There was no reason to believe that here parity would not be conserved. It was always assumed that Right-Left symmetry existed so far as weak interaction force was concerned. But, in middle of the twentieth century it all changed. It is at that time that physicists started talking about what is known as the Theta-Tau Puzzle.

There is a subatomic particle called K-mesons. Sometimes it would decay into two Pi mesons; Sometimes to three Pi mesons. One was not sure why it would do so. Were they different particles or was there some other reason? Physicist started calling them Theta mesons and Tau mesons. Except for this they appeared to be the same. Even stranger was the fact when they would break into two Pi mesons. They would have an even parity. But when they break into three Pi mesons, they would have an odd parity. This meant either initially these two types of K-mesons were in fact different or parity was not conserved. Apart from this there was no other reason to distinguish between them.

It happened in April 1956. There was a conference on nuclear physics in University of Rochester, New York. There was a discussion about the Theta-Tau Puzzle.

It is at this time that Richard P. Feynman, reckoned by many as the greatest scientist of the second half of the twentieth century posed a question,
‘Is it possible that Theta and Tau mesons would be one and the same and it is parity that is not conserved’ and he added ‘I am not asking the question for myself but on behalf of Martin Block’.
He explained it later The idea that the parity was not conserved or that Right-Left symmetry did not exist was so wild that I was afraid to be associated with such idea.

Chen Ning Yang and Tsung Dao Lee, two young Chinese living in USA were also present at the meeting. One of them got up and gave a lengthy reply. Block, on whose behalf Feynman had spoken, asked him what he had said. Feynman replied,
‘I could not understand.’

Feynman was so confident that, if any experiment was designed to see if parity was conserved then the experiment would fail, he was willing to bet 50 dollars. He was not the only one. Wolfgang Pauli, one of the world’s greatest theoretical physicists wrote a letter to his friend,
‘I do not believe that the Lord is a weak left hander. I am ready to bet a very high sum that experiments will give a symmetrical result.’

Both of them lost Experiments did not give symmetrical results. It was found that there was no conservation of parity, no Right-Left symmetry.6 God has shown that he is left-handed at least as far as weak interactions are concerned. He is not ambidextrous. No one ever that the experiment would overthrow parity.

What does it mean in simple language? You remember Polyphemus in the land of Cyclops. The one eyed giants in Odyssey. He had kept Odysseus and his men captive. Odysseus was on his way back to Ithacca, his rocky kingdom after commanding the building of the wooden horse, which had led to the fall of Troy. Before we talk about the position of one-eyed giants, let's consider the third eye of Lord Shiva.

Of course who does not know the Lord `Shiva’: the destroyer and restorer and his third eye bestowing inward vision but capable of causing destruction when opened. And we know what happened to KAMDEO, the God of love. He was destroyed by Lord Shiva’s third eye. He had dared to disturb him in his meditation, even though for a good cause.

It is said that Cyclops had their eye in the middle of their forehead. So is Lord Shiva's third eye. But what this breakthrough figuratively means is that if nature were Polyphemus, then his ( Polyuphemus's) eye and in case of the Lord Shiva the nature himself his third eye, is skewed. May be towards left or may be towards right- but certainly not in the middle. Pakistani Physicist Abdus Salamputs it succinctly,
‘In my view what we have found is that space is a weak left eyed giant.' (Elementary Particles: Endeavor April 1958)

It was about the same time that physicists were discussing the Theta-tau puzzle that Wolfenden Committee was appointed to consider sodomy laws. It gave its recommendation in 1957, same time as ‘fall of parity’, on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution in Great Britain. Using the findings of psychoanalysis and social science. The report urged that public statutes avoid the attempt to legislate morality and that they concern themselves only with the sexual acts that offend public decency or disrupt order. The committee therefore recommended that private homosexual liaisons between consenting adults be removed from the domain of criminal law. It accepted what Mill had said,
'The only purpose for which power can be right to live exercise over any member or a civilise community against his will is to prevent harm to others. His own good either physical or oral, is not a sufficient warrant.' (John Stuart Mill; On Liberty)
The recommendations of the Wolfenden committee were accepted.7 The result was the Sexual Offences Act, 1967.

Sodomy is a crime in many countries including India and is condemned as a mark of abnormality. Some laws provide penalties as severe as life imprisonment for homosexual intercourse, even if the relations are voluntary and between legally consenting adults. So-called sodomy laws, apply even to married couples not only in India but also in some other countries. No such penalties are found in the laws of Denmark, France, Italy, Sweden, or Switzerland. Like the Wolfenden committee in England, the American Law Institute in the United States recommended abolition of criminal provisions in this area, except in cases involving violence, children, or public solicitation to commercial vice. Thirteen States in USA have prohibited sodomy between same or opposite sex. Six more have prohibited sodomy between same sex. Rest of the States do not have sodomy laws.

Supreme Court of USA in Bowers Vs Harwick, 478 US 186 upheld sodomy laws, enacted by the State of Georgia saying,
‘There is no fundamental right to commit sodomy.’
But then In Romer Vs Evans (1996) the American Supreme Court. the court voided Colorado’s Constitutional amendments that barred any legislation protecting homosexuals from discrimination. The Majority said,
'[State cannot] deem a class of persons a stranger to its laws.’
This may not be much. Local/Public body to enact laws in support of gays if they want to. It does not mandate them to enact such a law; without which no protection can be given. Yet, it is something.

The Hawai State Supreme Court in 1993 hinted that the Hawai State appears to be discriminating against the Gay Couples by denying them marriage licences. Thereafter a Judge in Hawai has lifted the ban on the same sex marriages. Other troubling areas concerning gay rights are child custody cases and employment discrimination. Are gay parents fit for child custody?

Pro gay right cases have their reaction too. Nine other States in USA have already passed laws prohibiting the same sex marriage. In seven of the states, bills to ban same sex marriages are pending. You never know there may be a move to impeach the six Judges who formed the majority in Romer Vs Evans or Anti-gay right amendment in the US Constitution may come about. (See Post Sript)λ

Nature is symmetrical. It transcends human relations too. But if we look closely we find it nearly symmetrical. It is not perfect. Why is it so? Some answers were provided by Feynman,
‘So our problem is to explain where symmetry comes from. Why is nature so nearly symmetrical? None has any idea why. The only thing we might suggest is something like this: There is a gate in Japan, a gate in Neiko, which is sometimes called by the Japanese the most beautiful gate in all Japan. .... This gate is very elaborate ... But when one looks closely one sees that in the elaborate and complex design along one of the pillars, one of the small design elements is carved upside down; otherwise the thing is completely symmetrical. If one asks why this is so, the story is that it was carved upside down so that the gods will not be jealous of the perfection of man. So they purposely put an error in there, so that the gods would not be jealous and get angry at human beings.

We might like to turn the idea around and think that the true explanation of near symmetry of nature is this: the God made the laws only nearly symmetrical so that we should not be jealous of his perfection.’ (Feynman; Lectures on Physics Vol. 1 Chapter 52-9)

So, the God has left little asymmetry for we may not be jealous. Should we be angry? Should we still insist on what is not there. Asymmetry is God’s will: his command, in nature. We may not be happy but have to accept it. Symmetry cannot be or rather should not be enforced if it is not there in the first place.

λPost Script
Since writing of this article, the US Supreme Court has decided Lawrence Vs. Texas 539 US 558. In this case, there were reports of weapon disturbance in Lawrence’s apartment. The police entered t and saw him and another adult man, engaged in a private consensual sexual act. They were arrested and convicted of deviate sexual intercourse in violation of a Texas statute forbidding two persons of the same sex to engage in certain intimate sexual conduct. The US Supreme Court held the statute, making it a crime for two persons of the same sex to engage in certain intimate sexual conduct, to be violative of 14th amendment to the US Constitution, namely the due process clause.

The Delhi High Court dismissed the writ petition 7455 of 2001 on 2.9.2004 challenging section 377 of the IPC on the ground that there was no cause of action. However, our Supreme Court has issued notices on this point.

1The Greek letter lambda (λ) is the international homosexual symbol. The article deals with Law as well as physics. Not many are interested in detail about both fields. But in case you are, in any one or both of them then the details are in the footnotes.

2Of course parity was first used by mathematicians to distinguish between odd and even numbers. If two integers are either even or both odd they are said to have same parity. If one is even and the other odd, they are said to have opposite parity. Soon the term came to be applied in many different ways to any situation in which things fall into two mutually exclusive classes as above.

3Martin Gardner has named it the Ozma problem. He states it more precisely, ‘Is there any way to communicate the meaning of left by a language transmitted in the form of pulsating signals? By the terms of the problem we may say anything we please to our listeners, ask them to perform any experiment whatever, with one proviso: there is to be no asymmetric object or structure that we and they can observe in common’. He says, ‘it is a puzzling question. Although an old problem, it has not yet been given a name. I propose to call it the Ozma problem.’ (Martin Gardner; The Ambidextrous Universe. Left, Right, and the Fall of Parity: Pelican Books).

4This is what Martin Gardner has to say for naming it Ozma problem. ‘A powerful radio telescope at Green Bank, West Verginia, was pointed toward various stars in the galaxy in a systematic search for radio messages from another world. Frank D. Drake, the radio astronomer who directed the project, is a long-time admirer of L. Frank Baum’s and his Oz books. He named the project for Ozma, the ruler of Baum’s mythical utopia. It is an appropriate name. The location of Oz is unknown. Its inhabitants are humanoid but not necessarily 'meat people’ like us (witness the Tin Woodman and the Scarecrow.) Moreover, Oz is surrounded on all sides by the impassable deadly desert. Which destroys anyone who so much as touches one grain of its sand. One of Baum’s characters, the Nome King, has a servant called the Long Eared Hearer. The ears of this ‘nome’ are several feet across. By placing one of them on the ground he can hear sounds thousands of miles away. Frank Drake’s radio telescope is his Long Eared Hearer.’ (Martin Gardner; The Ambidextrous Universe. Left, Right, and the Fall of Parity: Pelican Books).

5The ultimate aim of physics is to unite these forces together. TOE Theory of Everything. But will it ever unite, is a question troubling all. Einstein worked on it but could not succeed. Many say his limitation was that he never believed that God plays dice. Stephen Hawking in 1980 in a paper, Is The End In Sight For Theoretical Physics, discussed ‘the possibility that the goal of Theoretical Physics might be achieved in the not too distant future: Say by the end of the century.’ And ended up by saying, ‘It would seem quite possible that they [computers] will take over altogether in theoretical physics. So may be the end is in sight for theoretical physicist, if not for theoretical physics.’ (Stephen Hawking; Black Holes And Baby Universes And Other Essays: Bantam Books).

6The two young Chinese scientists Chen Ning Yang and Tsung Dao Lee went on to study the data of all the experiments, which included weak interaction. And they found that parity was not conserved in almost all of them. It is then that they came out with a paper, ‘Question Of Parity Conservation In Weak Interaction’. They also suggested some experiments to confirm it. But no one conducted any experiments. Everyone always thought that parity would never be violated and Right-Left symmetry will always exist. Then it fell upon another Chinese, Shiung Wu, Professor of Physics at Columbia University to conduct an experiment with Cobalt-60, a particle emitter. It was cooled to near absolute zero in order to reduce the vibration of molecules. Then a powerful electromagnetic field was applied. If law of conservation of parity was to hold good electrons, a subatomic particle should come out from both the sides equally. Unfortunately it did not happen. Majority of the electrons came out from the south end. The reason for this was that electrons coming out had a particular spin i.e. a left handed one, as if nature preferred the left handed electrons. This was confirmed by other experiments. If electrons had a both sided spin they would have come out in about the same numbers from both ends. This also solved the Theta-Tau Puzzle. They were one and the same particle. It was parity that was no longer conserved i.e. Right-Left symmetry does not exist. It also solved the Ozma problem that was discussed earlier. We could ask the inhabitants of the distant planets to perform the same experiment; find out from which side the electrons are coming out and name it south. With its help label the poles of magnetic needle. If it is placed over an electric wire in which current is moving away from him then the north pole of the needle will point towards the direction we call left.
There is a postscript to the Ozma problem and its solution. There are particles and anti particles. There is matter and anti matter, when they meet they are converted into pure energy. Matter and their mirror images do not behave in the same manner. But the mirror image of antimatter and matter behave in the same way. Suppose we are able to establish a link and communicate with the inhabitants of the distant planets; and we tell them our manners; how we shake our hands. Suppose both of us go out and meet in open space and we take out our hand to shake, but in case the person from distant planet takes out his left hand as we understand it to be then beware. You know what will happen, if we shake our hands : We will be converted to pure energy, be one with almighty one, the ultimate aim according to Hinduism.

7This is how the Wolfenden commitee put it, ‘Criminal law is to preserve public order and decency to protect the citizens from what is offensive or injurious and to provide sufficient safeguards against exploitation and aggravation of others, particularly those who are specially vulnerable because they are young, weak in body or mind, inexperienced, or in a state of special physical, official or economic dependence. It is not, in our view, the function of the law to intervene in the private lives of citizens’.
‘The importance which society and the law ought to give to individual freedom of choice and action in matters of private morality. Unless a deliberate attempt is to be made by society, acting through the agency of the law, to equate the sphere of crime with that of sin, there must remain a realm of private morality which is, in brief and crude terms, not the law’s business’.

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