India Overturns Colonial Anti-LGBT Law, Decriminalizing Homosexuality

Supreme Court decriminalises Section 377, declares homosexuality legal

In a landmark judgement, the Supreme Court on Thursday struck down part of a 158-year-old colonial-era law which criminalised gay sex among consenting adults, observing that it violated the constitutional right to equality and dignity.

"This section 377 is a bad colonial legacy", Menaka Guruswamy, one of the lawyers representing the petitioners, had argued in court in July. That the law must not discriminate is one aspect of equality.

The court observed that Section 377 forced the LGBTQ community to "live in hiding" and as "second class citizens" while "others enjoyed right to sexual orientation". Gay activists have time and again pointed that police used the law to harass and intimidate members of their community.

Justice Malhotra reportedly said that history owed an apology to the members of the LGBT community and their families for the delay in providing redressal for the ignominy and ostracism that they have suffered through the centuries. Calling it an "unnatural offense" the law made gay sex punishable with up to 10 years in prison.

Reading down Section 377 IPC, the Constitution Bench said its provision will however continue to govern sexual acts against minors besides acts of bestiality.

"The Bangladeshi LGBT community has gained moral support", said Shahanur Islam, executive director of the Bangladesh Institute for Human Rights.

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"Constitutional morality can not be martyred at the altar of social morality", Chief Justice Dipak Misra said, reading out the verdict.

United Nations India Thursday lauded the Supreme Court for striking down a "key component" of IPC's Section 377 which criminalises "specific sexual acts between adults" and said the judgement will boost efforts to eliminate stigma and discrimination against LGBTI persons. But many gay people still face isolation and persecution, and the court's ruling will do little to change life on the ground for millions of people.

Sukhdeep Singh, a gay rights activist and editor of Gaylaxy Magazine, said the community still had a lot of distance to go "to be legally with your partner".

Seeking decriminalisation of consensual homosexuality, the NGO Naaz Foundation had first challenged Section 377 in the Delhi High Court in 2001.

"Decriminalising homosexuality and abolishing #Section377 is a huge thumbs up for humanity and equal rights!"

"Supreme Court verdict on Section 377 is momentous. We welcome the progressive & decisive verdict from the Supreme Court & hope this is the beginning of a more equal & inclusive society". "And other people will see that this is not too far from their culture, and so they can embrace that, help the church there in India differentiate themselves from the Western world view which is embracing homosexuality". That judgment sent shockwaves through the gay community, but also made them more assertive.

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