India’s LGBTIQ community is celebrating after the country’s Supreme Court delivered a landmark ruling decriminalising consensual gay sex.
Section 377 of India’s Constitution banned sexual activity “against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal” and was widely interpreted as a law against gay sex, which was punishable by up to 10 years in jail in the country.
But the Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously ruled against the law, with judges calling it unconstitutional and also in violation of the right to privacy.
Chief Justice Dipak Misra said as he read out the ruling that the law was “irrational and indefensible” and “had become a weapon for the harassment for LGBT and subjected them to discrimination.”
“Any consensual sexual relationship between two consenting adults – homosexuals, heterosexuals or lesbians – cannot be said to be unconstitutional,” he said.
“Any discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation violates fundamental rights.”
Given India’s population of 1.3 billion people, LGBTIQ advocates have hailed the ruling as the biggest decriminalisation verdict in history.
The decision comes after a years-long tussle over the law. The gay sex ban was overturned by the Delhi High Court in 2009, but reinstated four years later by the Supreme Court, which ruled the law should be changed by parliament.
But in July, the Indian government asked the Supreme Court to deliver a ruling.
Legal petitions calling for Section 377 to be scrapped had been put forward by a number of individuals, including LGBTIQ activists and several Indian celebrities.
Television personality Ritu Dalmia, who was one of the petitioners, told the Guardian the verdict on Thursday made her feel “hope once again”.
“I was turning into a cynical human being with very little belief in the system, but honestly this has really shown once again that, at the end, we are a functional democracy where freedom of choice, speech and rights still exist,” she said.
#WATCH Celebrations at Delhi’s The Lalit hotel after Supreme Court legalises homosexuality. Keshav Suri, the executive director of Lalit Group of hotels is a prominent LGBT activist. pic.twitter.com/yCa04FexFE
— ANI (@ANI) September 6, 2018
“Thanks to all that fought for this, braving the worst sort of prejudice. This is a good day for human rights,” Human Rights Watch’s South Asia director Meenakshi Ganguly tweeted.
“India’s Supreme Court has taken a momentous step that will resonate around the world.”
Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said in a statement that the ruling “sets free from criminalisation almost one fifth of the world’s LGBT+ people.”
“It is the biggest, most impactful gay law reform in human history. I hope it will inspire and empower similar legal challenges in many of the 70 countries that still outlaw same-sex relations, 35 of which are member states of the Commonwealth,” he said.
“[But] ending the ban on homosexuality is just a start. There are still huge challenges to end the stigma, discrimination and hate crime that LGBTs suffer in India.”
(Pictured: Dehli Pride parade, photo by Peter Tatchell Foundation)