India Decriminalizes Homosexuality; Strikes Down Colonial-Era Law

Supreme Court to pronounce judgment on Section 377

India's top court has handed down a landmark victory for gay rights in the world's largest democracy. A senior party member, Shashi Tharoor, said the "government has no space in bedrooms as this is a private act between consenting adults". The Supreme Court of India scrapped parts of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code and India's lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Although the law was seldom enforced, the gay community said it opened them to harassment and discrimination, and made it impossible for them to seek justice if they were victims of violence, rape or other crimes like blackmail.

"History owes an apology to members of the community for the delay in ensuring their rights", said Indu Malhotra, who was another judge on the bench.

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

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

In a unanimous verdict, the five-judge Constitution Bench decriminalised Section 377 IPC with regard to consensual gay sex, asserting that it was "irrational, indefensible and manifestly arbitrary" and that it violated fundamental rights to equality, life with dignity, personal liberty, non-discrimination, privacy and expression under Articles 14, 15, 19, and 21 of the Constitution.

He also said that homosexuality can not be regarded as a mental disorder and gays have the right to live with dignity.

"Such a view is constitutionally impermissible", stated CJI Misra, who wrote the judgment for himself and Justice Khanwilkar.

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Celebrations broke out all around the nation as the LGBTQ community welcomed the SC verdict on Section 377, asserting that the "historic" verdict granted them a basic human right but also acknowledging that complete equality was still some distance away.

"This verdict could give rise to other issues such as an increase in the number of HIV cases", member of parliament Subramanian Swamy told CNN-News18.

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

One college student skipped class to be outside the Supreme Court and come out to her family through a bevy of media cameras present for the occasion. "We welcome the progressive & decisive verdict from the Supreme Court & hope this is the beginning of a more equal & inclusive society".

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While India's law only legalises sexual acts between adults, gay activists have hailed the verdict as a major boost in the deeply conservative country where religious groups have fiercely opposed any liberalisation of sexual morality. "You can't change the mindsets of the people with the hammer of law", said Pandit Ajay Gautam of the fringe Hum Hindu group.

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