Attorney General of India KK Venugopal on Tuesday recused himself from appearing in the hearing before the Supreme Court on a clutch of petitions against Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalises homosexual acts. Venugopal said he decided to step aside because he had represented one of the petitioners when a curative petition was filed in the matter in 2013, PTI reported.

Venugopal said he has informed the concerned law officer who is handling the matter before the five-judge bench, that he will not appear in the case. The attorney general said he did not even know the government’s stand in the matter. “I am not appearing in the matter as I had appeared in the curative petition. I am not appearing now as the attorney general,” he said.

A five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court is hearing arguments on a batch of petitions that demand amendments to Section 377. The 19th-Century law criminalises “unnatural sex, against the order of nature”, which is punishable with life imprisonment.

On Tuesday, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi on Tuesday said the Supreme Court has a duty to protect the queer community as it is the protector of fundamental rights. Rohatgi, representing some of the petitioners, argued that values change as society evolves. “What is moral 160 years ago might not be moral today,” he said. “It [Section 377] uses the word ‘order of nature’. What is this order? It is the Victorian morals of 1860s.”

Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the government, said that the proceedings should be confined to the arguments on Section 377, and not include the broader range of rights, such as same-sex marriage and inheritance. He also sought time from the court to file a reply, if broader matters were to be argued.

The Supreme Court will hear the case again on Wednesday.